This week, the Chamber’s Board of Directors adopted a resolution reaffirming our support to “defend eminent domain authority to allow the planning and development of private and public infrastructure for energy, water, transportation, and expanded multi-modal transportation corridors.” Eminent domain is the legal authority for a governmental entity, or a private entity authorized by the government, to take private property for public use.
While the statement was adopted by the Board in 2017, the resolution expands on that statement by declaring the following five principles regarding the eminent domain process:
- Roads, water, utility connections, power sources including electrical, liquid and gas components, utility transmission and distribution systems, communications and digital capacity, drainage and flood control, and ports are all necessary components to meet the basic needs of our citizens;
- Landowners whose land is acquired through eminent domain should be justly compensated, and no legislative changes should occur that erode landowners’ constitutionally protected rights;
- As our courts have rightly established, landowners should receive both fair market value for their taken property and the loss of property value resulting from a taking;
- Legislative changes that result in delays to much-needed infrastructure projects must be avoided;
- Legislative changes that add unreasonable expenses, result in increased litigation, and seek changes to long-held judicial principles must be opposed.
State lawmakers have been considering eminent domain reform for several years, specifically whether to tighten eminent domain laws to help landowners battling pipeline companies, electric utilities, public agencies, or other entities seeking to condemn their land for public use.
There has been an age-old ideological debate over finding the right balance between property rights and eminent domain authority. Ahead of the Texas 85th legislative session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick charged lawmakers with studying whether landowners were being fairly compensated for lost property. Legislators suggested that Senate Bill 18 – landmark legislation passed in 2011 that set up the current condemnation process – offered enough protection for landowners. A three-step process requires condemning entities to make an initial “good faith” offer. If parties don’t agree, a local judge will appoint three special commissioners to weigh estimates from appraisals hired by each side. If gridlock persists, the dispute can go to a jury trial.
Earlier this month, the House Committee on Land & Resource Management met in Houston to hear invited and public testimony regarding the following interim charge:
Examine Texas’ eminent domain statutes to ensure a balance between necessary infrastructure growth and fair compensation for landowners. Review available public information and data relating to the compensation provided to private property owners. Make recommendations to improve the accountability, as well as successful development, of the entities granted eminent domain authority.
The hearing stemmed from issues brought forth in Houston after Hurricane Harvey. The City of Houston is considering exercising their eminent domain authority as a preventative measure to avoid property damage from extreme flooding should they be hit with another natural disaster. Since hearings are already taking place up at the State Capital regarding this issue, and we are confident the 86th Texas Legislature is considering changes to laws governing the eminent domain process, the Chamber felt strongly that expanding on the legislative statement adopted by the Board in 2017 was an important and proactive strategy.