Gene Hall, Director of Public Relations for Texas Farm Bureau
Fairness is a concept that influences human and business relationships. Without it, those relationships break down. That is exactly what has happened with eminent domain law in Texas, according to representatives from 16 Texas agricultural groups seeking eminent domain reform.
The first of several meetings organized by Texans for Property Rights was held in Jourdanton Thursday, Oct 27.
Landowners were briefed on the current state of eminent domain law and the efforts to change it in the next session of the Texas Legislature. The new coalition will push for a law that would require property-taking condemning entities that lose in court to pay the legal costs of affected property owners.
Texas is a state proud of its heritage of property ownership, and most Texans probably believe they are secure in their property rights. In Jourdanton, they learned that fairness and property rights are often casualties in the eminent domain process.
Eminent domain is a principle well established in law. Virtually everyone recognizes that public entities must sometimes take private property for the public good. The most recognizable instances are roads, airports or schools. However, many private companies, along with government, have the power of eminent domain. These include utilities, pipeline companies, drainage districts and others.
San Antonio attorney Arthur Uhl, a member of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), one of the organizing groups, addressed the Jourdanton meeting.
“Eminent domain laws are really skewed to the favor of the condemning authority in Texas, which are primarily governmental entities and as far as common carriers go, can include private companies as well,” Uhl said.
He noted that both the U.S. and Texas constitutions provide for the taking of private property so long as just and adequate compensation is paid. The Texas Constitution goes as far as including damage to and destruction of property.
“The problem is what’s public and what’s not has become ambiguous and unfair to the landowner,” Uhl said.
He laid out one case of a property owner at odds with a company over electrical transmission lines. The owner requested compensation in the amount of $393,165. The powerline company offered $54,731, less than a fifth of what the owner believed was fair. He took them to court. The jury agreed with the property owner, awarding the full amount he’d asked for. Unfortunately, he was saddled with significant legal fees and court costs.
Not every property owner can afford to do this.
When owners receive a “low ball” offer from a property taker, he or she is faced with a troubling decision. It can come down to taking the low offer or incurring legal expenses to fight, with the outcome unknown.
“We’ve had several examples that have actually gone to the Supreme Court where private companies have used their common carrier status to condemn property without much regard for landowners’ rights,” Uhl said.
Legislation will be introduced in the next legislative session to address this situation.
Under the proposed legislation, if the property taker has a low ball offer and loses in court, they would be required to compensate the landowner for legal costs in addition to the court award. Currently, 22 states provide this level of protection for property owners’ rights.
In the meantime, the Texans for Property Rights website is a central collection point for stories and concerns about abuse of eminent domain. Texas landowners are encouraged to share their stories and lend their voices to fight for achieving eminent domain fairness.
Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) is one of the groups involved in Texans for Property Rights.
“Farmers and ranchers expect fairness in their dealings. Eminent domain is currently a wild card and there’s no way to plan for it and no easy way to deal with it,” TFB President Russell Boening said.
One thing is certain, unresolved, this controversy will grow along with the Texas population. Since the year 2000, the Lone Star State’s population has grown by 4.3 million people. That’s a number equal to the combined populations of Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, Vermont and both Dakotas.
Texas’ population growth continues unabated. Texas is home to 8.4 percent of the national population, a number measured at 26.5 million people in 2014.
Public infrastructure and services will have to keep pace, and takings of private property in a state that is 95 percent privately owned will be more frequent.
Texans for Property Rights expects this to happen, but all 16 groups urge the legislature to take action now to restore fairness in eminent domain.
Eminent domain meetings are scheduled throughout parts of Texas this month.
Tuesday, Nov. 1
6 p.m.-7 p.m.
Blackwood Educational Center
27144 Rock Island Road
Hempstead, Texas 77445
Wednesday, Nov. 2
6 p.m.-7 p.m.
Navarro County Exposition Center
1921 N. 45th Street
Corsicana, Texas 75110
Monday, Nov. 14
5:30 p.m.-7 p.m.
Pitser Garrison Civic Center, Lufkin Room
601 N. 2nd Street
Lufkin, Texas 75901
Tuesday, Nov. 15
6 p.m.-7 p.m.
Bastrop Convention and Exhibit Center
1408 Chestnut Street
Bastrop, Texas 78602
Thursday, Nov. 17
6 p.m.-7 p.m.
The Holiday Inn & Suites Beaumont Plaza, Austin Room
3950 I-10 South (at Walden Road)
Beaumont, Texas 77705
A webinar and Lubbock meeting will be scheduled for December.
The meetings are hosted by the growing coalition, which is currently comprised of: Texas Farm Bureau, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Texas Wildlife Association, Texas Forestry Association, South Texans’ Property Rights Association, Texas Poultry Association, Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers Association, Independent Cattlemen’s Association, Texas Grain Sorghum Association, Plains Cotton Growers, Inc., Corn Producers Association of Texas, Riverside & Landowners Protection Coalition, Texas Land & Mineral Owners Association, Texas Association of Dairymen, Texas Cattle Feeders Association and Texas Grain and Feed Association.
Original article posted here.