The Texas House of Representatives appears to be backtracking on property protection in its quest to reform eminent domain law. There is a bill in the Senate that will remedy some of the concerns expressed by conservatives.
SB 18—the primary eminent domain reform bill this session—will hit the House floor this Wednesday, April 13. The bill is an improvement over current law, but still could use significant improvement. However, proponents of the bill are afraid to amend it for fear opposition will mount by cities, etc. and stop the passage of the bill. This is highly unlikely, since the bill has already passed the Senate and now only needs a majority of each body for final passage.
A need has risen to provide a buy back provision by amendment. SB 18’s current buyback provision is designed to allow property owners to re-purchase their condemned property if it is not used for the public use for which it was taken. But it is rendered ineffective by loopholes. Our recommendation is to add a fourth trigger to the buyback provision giving property owners the right to repurchase their property if the initial use of the property is not the public use – or a substantially similar public use – for which the property was taken. Incorporating HB 188 (Rep. Ralph Sheffield) and HB 1062 (Rep. Jim Murphy) into SB 18 would also improve it.
It is noted that in the battle in the northeast of the Kelo case, the property taken under eminent domain was never developed, as it was planned thus bringing on the case in the first place, yet Mrs. Kelo was denied the right to buy back her property. SB 18 is not quite there yet in a strong buy back provision for Texans.
Texans, call your legislators and voice strong support for real reform of eminent domain law.