Robert McKnight Jr., president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), joined Rep. DeWayne Burns, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst and other prominent property rights advocates at a news conference Wednesday to announce the filing of HB 991 and SB 421.
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. Eminent domain is a power granted to governments to seize private property for public use, usually thought of in relation to roads, schools or other such projects. In Texas, however, many private for-profit entities, such as pipeline and transmission line corporations, can use the same governmental power.
“I would like to thank Rep. Burns and Sen. Kolkhorst for their steadfast commitment to fixing an eminent domain system that is commonly abused and designed to favor private companies who subsidize their profits with the power of condemnation,” said McKnight at the news conference. “Texans deserve better. We deserve an eminent domain process that is open and transparent, that is fair and respectful of our partnership in energy infrastructure, and that holds private condemnors accountable if they don’t do it right.”
McKnight and others at the conference stressed the importance of better transparency, accountability and fairness in the eminent domain process, noting that for private entities, especially oil and gas pipelines, those virtues are practically nonexistent today.
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 Rep. Burns, the bills have already received bipartisan support from legislators who represent both rural and urban Texas. Still, the legislation will face strong opposition from oil, gas and pipeline company lobbyists who like the advantages they currently enjoy.
“Texas’ rapidly growing population and thriving energy industry are at crossroads that will determine the future of our state,” said Rep. DeWayne Burns. “HB 991 will ensure Texas property owners are respected partners in building our critical infrastructure while preserving our strong tradition of property rights.”
Sen. Kolkhorst also noted the broad support and that it is indicative of how widespread the problems are, and how seriously private property rights are taken in Texas.
“Since the days of Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin, Texans have valued on our freedom to own private property,” said Sen. Lois Kolkhorst. “To continue that proud tradition, I filed SB 421 to see that the eminent domain process used by private entities is fair, transparent and that those entities are held accountable when they take private land.
Now that it is filed, the legislation must be referred to a committee and scheduled for a hearing.
McKnight urged all Texans to follow the progress by visiting www.TexansForPropertyRights.com and signing up for updates. He also called on property owners to contact their state legislators and ask for their support.
“This is an issue every legislator can support to protect their constituents,” he concluded. “Ask them to sign on to HB 991 or SB 421 as a co-author to show their support for your private property rights.”