THE PANOLA WATCHMAN: Texas farmers, landowners seek eminent domain reform

Posted on 02/17/2019 under News

Special to the Watchman Feb 17, 2019

 

A pair of bills that seek to reform the private entity use of the eminent domain process in Texas were filed in mid-January, and they have the support of Texas farmers, ranchers and rural landowners.

“Right now, the eminent domain process is very one-sided, Panola County Farm Bureau President Richard Reed said. “Landowners are often left in the dark on the details of the project that will cross their land.”

That’s why landowners are asking for reform this legislative session, Reed said.

HB 991 and SB 421, the companion bills filed by Rep. DeWayne Burns, R-Cleburne, and Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, outline changes to state law on how private entities with eminent domain authority must negotiate to acquire property before resorting to condemnation.

The bills would mandate that all easement agreements used for pipelines or electronic transmission lines include maximum protections for landowners. They call for standardized easement forms that include a maximum number of pipelines, easement rights, how the entity will access the easement, prohibit transfer of the easement and more.

A provision regarding the use of and repair of any gates and fences is also included.

Private companies that use eminent domain would be required to hold public meetings within the counties they would be asserting eminent domain. These meetings must be held before the company can acquire any property. There would also be consequences for making an initial offer that is below market value.

If damages awarded by the special commissioners are 25 to 100 percent greater than the initial offer, then the companies would have to make an additional payment to the property owner of up to 35 percent of the special commissioners’ award.

“Both urban and rural landowners deserve fairness, transparency and accountability in the eminent domain process,” Reed said. “Oftentimes, private entities offer less than fair market value. These bills could reform the process and allow landowners to be treated more like an equal partner in the transaction.”

The Texas Farm Bureau and other agricultural organizations and landowner groups support the proposed legislation.

“We understand the need for eminent domain,” Reed said. “We’re not against the process. We just want fair, transparent and honest dealings. Texas farmers, ranchers and property owners have a constitutional right to fair treatment and just compensation.”

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