ISSUES & POLICY Where We Stand
We Continue TSCRA’s Work to Reform Texas’ Eminent Domain Laws
By Robert E. McKnight Jr., Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association president
If you supported Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association’s (TSCRA) work to reform Texas’ eminent domain laws in the 2017 session of the Texas Legislature, then you will be pleased to know that our work continues.
Hughes Abell, Arthur Uhl and I, with the help and support of many TSCRA members and the staff, will not give up on our efforts to change eminent domain laws that are unfair to landowners.
Richard Thorpe, our immediate past president, passionately led our reform efforts during the 2017 session. Hughes and I were privileged to work alongside him and attended many of the same meetings and briefings and suffered the same bitter disappointment when our efforts in 2017 were not successful.
In March, Richard passed the president’s gavel to me and our 3-member officer team shifted to include Arthur Uhl as second vice-president. Arthur’s legal background and leadership on the board of directors and various policy committees have given him a unique and educated perspective on legal reform in Texas.
You can rest assured that TSCRA’s efforts to reform laws that are unfair to landowners remain strong. We will be quick to call on the tremendous knowledge base in our membership and leaders.
We have been at this issue for a long time. For example, in the January 1986 issue of The Cattleman, the article “Landowners Should Know Rights in Condemnation Cases” addressed eminent domain. Authors Ed Small, Robert Neblett III and Gary Thornton wrote:
“For most landowners, the idea of someone ‘taking’ part of their land can be frightening and appalling. The concept of being ‘condemned,’ besides angering a landowner, might also be his first experience with our court system and the litigation process. In some situations, this anger and fear can result in unnecessary expense in time and money. For example, a landowner might refuse to settle at any price, thus necessitating some unnecessary legal expense, or on the other hand, a landowner without proper guidance might settle for a price far below what he should or could have received for his land and the rights he is giving up.”
We and other landowner associations have surveyed our members to gauge attitudes about the use of eminent domain in Texas. Only 2 percent of respondents believed the initial offer from the condemnor was fair and 13 percent of respondents thought the final offer was fair.
Of the respondents who took their condemnation to a special commissioner’s hearing or trial court, 77 percent received at least 20 percent more than the final written offer from the condemnor. Clearly, the initial offers from condemnors are not reflecting market value.
During the 2017 legislative session, TSCRA and other landowner organizations formed a coalition called Texans for Property Rights to fight for changes to the eminent domain laws in Texas. We were outgunned by numerous oil and gas and electric lobbyists and lawyers and were unsuccessful.
We will take a different tactic in the 2019 Legislative Session and the work starts, or I should say continues, now. The most effective way to combat the opposition is for you to contact your legislators. Your state representative and state senators care about your opinions. You voted them into office and have the power to vote them out.
TSCRA is working hard for you, but the grassroots influence of members like you is the most powerful tool in our arsenal for change.
Find your state representative and state senator at www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us.
“Where We Stand” is excerpted monthly from The Cattleman magazine. Join today to start your subscription.