Jacksonville Daily Progress
Gov. Rick Perry signed Senate Bill 18, a eminent domain reform bill, into law Monday.
“I’m proud to sign into law stronger eminent domain provisions protecting Texas landowners from local and state government entities that might consider abusing private property rights,” Perry said in a press release.
Perry was joined by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, Sen. Craig Estes, Sen. Robert Duncan and Rep. Charlie Geren for the bill signing.
“We know that Texas is thriving as a state and property is a valuable asset, but that growth should not come at the expense of property owners,” Estes said. “This is the most important bill to strengthen private property rights for landowners.”
The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) has pushed for the reform for three legislative sessions, said TSCRA President Joe Parker Jr.
“Today is a proud day for Texas landowners,” Parker said Monday. “After years of hard work, Texas has new eminent domain law that will protect the private property rights of Texans.”
The law requires: 1) local and state government entities interested in acquiring private property 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, 2) condemnation petitions to specifically state the public use for which the land is needed, 3) a governmental or private entity may not take private property through the use of eminent domain if the taking is not for public use, 4) 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, and 5) entities to provide all appraisals of the property they have during negotiations.
Also in the law, landowners may repurchase their land if in 10 years it is not used for the public use it was condemned for.
The law does allow a common carrier pipeline or an energy transporter to use eminent domain, something that has East Texas landowners still worried.
“It actually does more harm for landowners,” said David Daniel, founder of STOP (Stop Tarsands Oil Pipelines) and Winnsboro landowner. “In my opinion, when they say eminent domain reform to me it looks like it’s reform for the industry and not for the people.”
East Texans are especially concerned about eminent domain abuse because of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, which is slated to carry an unrefined oil 370 miles from Cushing, Okla. through 18 counties in Texas, including Cherokee, Rusk, Nacogdoches and Smith counties. TransCanada has not yet received a presidential permit to begin construction, but has begun acquiring land for the project.
After receiving letters from a Houston lawyer representing TransCanada that threatened the use of eminent domain, Daniel said he signed a contract with the company to allow a temporary easement of his land.
The law only benefits landowners if they have the funds to hire a lawyer and dispute an entity’s use of eminent domain, Daniel said.
“It’s a tiny percentage of people who end up going through the eminent domain process. I rest, like myself, can’t afford to go through it,” Daniel said. “If they open the door for any entity to come in then that opens the door for more abuses.”
Daniel said the law is unclear on whether TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline is an entity that will now be restricted from using eminent domain.
Terri Hall, founder and director of Texans United for Reform & Freedom, said SB 18 is a “special interest bill.”
“I think that there’s some giveaways in there to oil and gas companies,” Hall said.
The law requires that easements for oil or gas pipelines can only be obtained after a public and record vote to initiate eminent domain proceedings.
The vote may apply to all units of property to be condemned, so if an motion is passed the oil or gas company may acquire all units at once.
“They never changed the fact that your parcel of land might be up for eminent domain taking by a vote of county commissioners or city council,” Hall said. “They can now gain your property together with a bunch of other landowners and label it under something else so that you can’t even have true disclosure about the fact that the government might be taking their land for condemnation.”
The provision to the law which allows landowners to buy back their land has holes, Hall said.
“How that land actually gets released is very broad and people are very concerned that they can still hang on to your land indefinitely because there’s nothing spelled out in the bill that makes it specific of is there an action taken by a governmental entity or is there something done that allows you to have that opportunity to buy it back,” she said.