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Texas Senate
February 3, 2011
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Sen. Craig Estes
Sen. Craig Estes of Wichita Falls sponsored the bill aimed at improving the eminent domain process in Texas.

(AUSTIN) — The Senate State Affairs Committee passed a bill Thursday to clarify the process through which private property is taken for public use. Bill Author Senator Craig Estes of Wichita Falls testified that property owners need better protection. "I believe that the proverbial deck of cards is currently stacked against private property landowners," he said. "The eminent domain process does not properly recognize the value of a landowner's private property interest."

The bill, SB 18, is virtually identical to a bill passed unanimously by the Senate last session. That died in the House.

The current debate of the government's ability to take private land goes back to a 2005 U.S. Supreme court decision that ruled that economic development was a justification for the use of eminent domain. Since that time, 34 states have passed legislation preventing public taking of land for economic purposes. This issue has been before the state legislature for more than 4 years, and this year Governor Rick Perry added the issue to his call for emergency legislation, allowing lawmakers to take up the issue early in the session.

SB 18 would require an entity exercising eminent domain authority to offer a fair price for any land, require a fair appraisal, a written initial and final offer, and copies of the appraisal and all relevant documents provided to the property owner. It gives the owner 14 days to respond to the offer. It also provides provisions for repurchasing the property, at the price paid to the original owner, if the project the land was taken for does not progress over 10 years. An entity would also be prohibited from taking land to build a recreational project, like a park or a swimming pool.

Also at issue is the confusion over which governmental entities can exercise eminent domain authority. According to committee chair and bill co-author Senator Robert Duncan of Lubbock, no one can generate a definitive list of every entity which can take land for public use. The bill would require any entity with the authority to take land to register with the Secretary of State by September 2013, or lose that authority. "What this will allow the legislature to do is to examine all of the grants of eminent domain authority to determine whether or not they're appropriate," said Duncan.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, February 7 at 1:30 p.m.

Session video and all other Senate webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.