Attorney Trey Wilson - RL Wilson Law

04 May 2009

Eminent domain reform approved

A bill that would implement a second stage of reforms to Texas’ controversial eminent domain laws was approved by the Texas Senate this afternoon, including a provision to prohibit government land speculation.

The reforms were a key part of GOP leaders’ legislative strategy this session, to complete initial changes made two years ago on the politically sensitive issue — especially among staunch Republicans voters.

In 2007, the issue of eminent domain was a top issue, amid complaints by landowner groups, ranchers, business owners and others that some governmental entities were engaging in land speculation and that they were taking land at the behest of developers and other private interests.

The first stage of reforms designed to stop those practices took effect later that year.

Senate Bill 18 by state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, would limit eminent domain takings of land for a public use only, require bona fide officers before land could be condemned and require fair compensation to property owners who lose a direct access to their remaining property.

The bill prohibits condemnation of land for private use, and changes procedures to initiate eminent domain proceedings by requiring any actions by governmental entities to be done in public and by a record vote.

In addition, the bill requires a bona fide offer by the condemning entity. If no bona fide offer is made, the entity seeking the condemnation would have to pay all fees incurred by the property owner, according to the bill.

The bill also requires all entities with eminent domain powers to register with the Comptroller of Public Accounts by Dec. 31, 2010 or risk losing their condemnation authority.

“Private property and the right to own it, and profit from it, is fundamental to not only our economic liberty, but also our personal liberty,” Estes said. “Senate bill 18 provides meaningful eminent domain reform and strengthens the rights of property owners against the use of eminent domain by government and other condeming authorities.”

The bill was approved 31-0. It now goes to the House for consideration.

One of the groups involved in earlier calls to change the eminent domain laws applauded the vote.

“Property owners know that Texas is growing and that our land and water will be needed to accommodate future growth, but that accommodation shouldn’t be at the expense of property owners,” Dave Scott, president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, said.

“Members of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers strongly believe that Texas property owners do not have enough protections under the current eminent domain law. Senate Bill 18 levels the playing field for property owners.

By Mike Ward - Austin American Statesman

Trey Wilson --Named By Scene in SA Magazine As One of San Antonio's Best Real Estate Litigation Attorneys -- September 2008 -- As voted on by peers