Gov. Rick Perry today was joined by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association Honorary Director Tom Perini and Abilene Mayor Norm Archibald to discuss legislation that would further protect private property owners' rights in Texas. The governor designated protecting private property rights/addressing eminent domain issues as an emergency item for the legislative session.
"The ownership of land is in many ways the culmination of the American Dream, and nowhere is the American Dream more accessible to more people than in Texas," Gov. Perry said. "We've taken important steps in the past to rebuild private property protections in Texas, and these measures will further assure Texas landowners that the power of eminent domain will only be used for compelling, public reasons, never used lightly, and never used to pick winners and losers in the private sector."
Senate Bill 18, by Sen. Craig Estes and sponsored by Rep. Charlie Geren, requires entities to first make an offer, in writing and based on an appraisal, to the landowner to purchase the property through a voluntary sale for a fair price. This prevents entities from making lowball offers knowing the land can be taken by eminent domain if the landowner doesn't accept. The bill also requires condemnation petitions to specifically state the public use for which the land is needed, eliminating instances where land is taken without current plans for its use. The bill also makes it clear that that eminent domain can only be used for public use.
"Don't mess with Texas, and don't mess with Texas land," Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said. "Few issues have brought Texans together like eminent domain reform. SB 18 helps correct the injustice of loopholes in the law that allows landowners to be taken advantage of. Passing this legislation will send a message that, here in Texas, we hold dear to our heritage of land ownership."
Further, SB 18 requires a government entity that takes land to first have a record vote stating the land to be taken and the project for which it is being taken. It also requires entities to provide all appraisals of the property they have during negotiations to ensure landowners understand the fair market value of their land. Finally, SB 18 also allows landowners to repurchase land at the price they were paid for it if it becomes unnecessary for the project for which it was taken, or if no actual progress is made toward the project in 10 years, even if the project has not been cancelled.
"As landowners, we know that Texas is growing and that our land and water will be needed to accommodate future growth; however, that accommodation shouldn't come at our expense," Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association Honorary Director Tom Perini said. "Eminent domain reform is needed to preserve Texas' natural resources and agriculture. Without stronger protections for property owners, Texas will diminish its ability to thrive."
Land steward organizations interested in further protecting private property rights, including the Texas Wildlife association, support these measures.
"The Texas Wildlife Association is a longtime supporter of protecting property owners from eminent domain abuse," TWA President Tina Y. Buford said. "SB 18 by Sen. Estes and Rep. Geren is another important step in providing meaningful eminent domain reform for all Texans."
Protecting private property owners' rights remains a priority for Gov. Perry. At the governor's request, last session the Legislature passed a measure to allow Texans to vote on a constitutional amendment requiring land taken to be only for public use, ending the seizure of property for use by a private developer. Additionally, local governments can no longer condemn an entire area for redevelopment by claiming it is blighted without proving that each section is blighted. The amendment also protects Texas landowners against further grants of eminent domain authority by requiring each new grant to receive a 2/3 vote in each house of the Legislature. Texas voters passed this amendment in November 2009.
To see what others are saying about the importance of this legislation, please visit http://governor.state.tx.us/video/interviews/15908/ and http://governor.state.tx.us/video/interviews/15907/