November 17, 2006
A joint committee of the Texas House and Senate met recently to discuss eminent domain.
State Director Daniel Dierschke testified for Texas Farm Bureau, stating that current Texas eminent domain law does not provide property owners with adequate protections or compensation. Farm Bureau recognizes the power of eminent domain is needed for truly public works.
However, the current eminent domain procedure is heavily tilted in the condemning authority's favor, giving them an unfair advantage over property owners. Eminent domain is no longer being used as a last resort when parties cannot come to an agreement. Instead, it is being used as a club to purchase property at below market value.
Property owners lost a key protection when the Texas Supreme Court (Hubenak, 2004) decided that any initial offer made by condemning authorities would suffice. Before that decision, condemning authorities had to provide a good faith initial offering.
Property owners who receive an unfairly low initial offer now face a difficult choice. They can take the low offer because it is too expensive to fight their case in court. Or, they can fight for their right to receive fair market value for their property and be saddled with attorney's fees, expert witness fees, and court costs. Either way, property owners lose.
Condemning entities should be required to make good faith initial offers and should pay for the property owners' attorney fees and court costs if they do not.
The Legislature should also make other changes to ensure property owners receive adequate compensation and are left in the same relative position as before the condemnation. Those changes would include appraising condemned property using replacement value, paying for relocation costs, and appraising their condemned land at its highest and best use. Property owners should also have an option to receive a periodic rent payment for revenue generating projects such as utilities or pipelines.
Texas Farm Bureau will be working hard on eminent domain issues, but we need your help. The perception of many in the legislature is that all of the problems associated with eminent domain were corrected with the passage of Senate Bill 7 in 2005. We need you to contact your legislator and let him know that the current eminent domain law still has serious problems that need to be fixed. If you have a story about how eminent domain has affected you personally, it is especially important that you send that story to your legislator so he knows how serious the problem still is.
Your personal story, combined with our lobbying efforts in Austin, will provide a one-two punch to convince legislators we need to change our current eminent domain laws.