Eminent domain — the worry that leaves farmers across the nation constantly on edge. Is the next big interstate going to run through my land? Or a new government building? Eminent domain works a little differently in every state, Texas being no exception. This week, Texas lawmakers met in Austin to roll out the eminent domain reform bill, HB 991.
According to Texas and Southwest Cattle Raisers Association, “In Texas many private for-profit entities, such as pipeline and transmission line corporations, can use the same governmental power. The legislation was touted at the conference as a means to vastly improve the eminent domain process for thousands of Texans who are faced each year with the prospect of losing their private property through forced condemnation.
During the news conference, the bills’ authors discussed some of the provisions that would accomplish those goals. Mandating a public meeting to ensure property owners understand the process and can have their question answered, stipulating minimum protections that must be present in the contact and holding condemnors accountable if they offer property owners less compensation than they are owed.
According to Texas Farm Bureau, farmers, ranchers, and rural landowners continue to complain of property takings for pipelines, utilities, and other uses that do not treat property owners fairly. Complaints of “lowball” offers and land not restored in a satisfactory way are common. Often, landowners subject to takings report they are unsure of their rights.
Texas Farm Bureau President Russell Boening joined State Rep. DeWayne Burns (R-Cleburne) to roll out the reform bill, HB 991. “We understand the rapid growth of our state will call for sacrifice, careful planning and yes, eminent domain,” Boening said in a statement. “However, Texas farmers, ranchers, and rural property holders have a constitutional right to fair treatment and just compensation.”
“It’s time for transparency in all property takings, with landowners clearly understanding their rights,” Boening said. “There must be true good faith offers and consequences if that does not occur.”
Boening said the need for eminent domain for public projects and infrastructure is not in question. Fairness, he said, is the issue. The legislation is sure to face strong opposition from oil, gas, and pipeline company lobbyists.