July 7, 2006
crucial in growing Texas...
By Billy Howe
State Legislative Director
We are all aware that Texas is growing and will continue to grow. The projections of our state doubling in population over the next 50 years have been pounded into our brains. It is no secret that with more people you need more water, roads, electricity, schools, etc.
The good fortune of a vibrant and growing economy is putting the agricultural landowner and the state on a collision course that cannot be avoided.
Can the landowner stop a transmission line or highway? The odds are against it.
Can the landowner get better treatment for losing their property to so-called "progress?" I don't know, but we are sure going to try.
In 2000, it came to the attention of our organization that the City of Sweetwater had condemned property for groundwater. However, they didn't want to actually pay for the groundwater.
And then, in 2002, an agent for the City of San Angelo was threatening surface water right holders with condemnation if they didn't sell to the city.
Could we pass a new law prohibiting the condemnation of water? No, not in a state that is 80 percent urban. But, we were able to pass legislation that provided more compensation and a lot of justified obstacles before water could be taken. This strategy can work on other condemnations.
The legislature is sensitive to private property rights. The legislation to address the Kelo decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, S.B. 7 by Sen. Kyle Janek, passed almost unanimously in both chambers. The bill has been criticized by some "property rights" groups, but to be quite frank, from the Texas Farm Bureau perspective, those exemptions don't directly affect agricultural or rural land. In that sense, S.B. 7 provides a great amount of protection for our members.
So first, we must communicate to the legislature that although condemnation has become routine, it is a traumatic event for the landowner. The taking of someone's property should not be taken lightly by anyone. And, if the current process doesn't require the property owner to be treated fairly and with respect, then perhaps the process needs to be re-evaluated.
Secondly, one of the main areas of contention is compensation. Is a one-time payment of fair market value enough? If my property is condemned by an investor-owned utility for a transmission line that will generate millions in revenue, why doesn't the current eminent domain process recognize that value? If I can't replace the property I have worked 20 years to improve with a payment based on fair market value, how is that fair? Why shouldn't I receive replacement value for my property?
We have some strong arguments for the legislature to re-evaluate these and other issues.
However, without a large, sustained effort by the members of the Texas Farm Bureau to push these issues, we will not be successful in accomplishing change. These issues put our organization at odds with utilities, pipeline companies, cities, counties, state agencies, water marketers, sport franchises, etc. It is quite a formidable group to fight. Remember, the legislature did pass our water condemnation bill and S.B. 7, so we haven't completely lost our respect for private property rights in this state.
But it will take the type of outcry after the Kelo decision for the legislature to act. Our success is up to you, the grassroots of the Texas Farm Bureau.