As private property owners, we learned some tough lessons during the last Texas legislative session when we were not able to secure desperately needed reforms to the eminent domain process. Nonetheless, we are preparing to return with even greater resolve and have distilled our reform efforts to three main requests for the 86th Texas Legislature.
Accountability, transparency and fairness.
We hear time and again from property owners that they have been offered an outrageously low price for pipeline or transmission line easements across their land.
The Constitution states that property owners must be adequately compensated when their land is taken through eminent domain. Therefore, we believe the condemning entity must be held accountable for the initial offer they make.
Under current eminent domain law, the condemning entity is not required to make an initial offer of at least fair market value. Currently, it is your burden as the property owner to negotiate up to fair market value. We believe that responsibility should be on the private corporation who is profiting from the taking. There should be consequences when a condemning entity’s initial offer is unreasonably low.
This issue of accountability must be addressed to create a more balanced landscape for negotiation by both parties.
On the issue of transparency, we believe property owners facing the threat of eminent domain should be provided with adequate information early in the process.
When we receive the first offer and are presented with the Landowner Bill of Rights, that is often when our education about eminent domain starts and ends.
Government agencies and cities hold public hearings to lay out plans for infrastructure and expansion projects. The public is informed. They are able to ask questions and be part of the decision-making process.
Transparency is an important part of governmental takings, but no such requirement exists when a private entity, such as a pipeline company, is using or threatening to use the power of condemnation.
Eminent domain is a governmental process and deserves to be transparent whether it is carried out by the government or a private entity.
Finally, the process must be fair and respectful of property owners who are forced to give up their land under threat of condemnation.
Put protections in the easement document to safeguard property owners against abuse. Landowners face high costs and losses when dealing with trash left by work crews, pasture gates left open for cows to wander off, and by those who trespass beyond the boundaries of the easement.
Under current law, the burden is again on the property owner to negotiate for these protections. We propose that they be automatically included in the easement to guard against the most common abuses.
Accountability, transparency and fairness do not seem like too much to ask for in eminent domain, but we will face stout opposition. Our opponents like things the way they are, stacked in their favor. Lawmakers are under extreme pressure to support the status quo by the corporations and special interest groups who are subsidized by the power of eminent domain.
So, to achieve these reasonable and commonsense reforms we need your help.
To strengthen our efforts and demonstrate the dire necessity of reform, we need your unique experiences and stories of how eminent domain affects everyday Texans.
Please contact your state representative and senator directly to tell them about your experiences with eminent domain. They need the facts to support the case for reform.
Texas is growing, and our state needs wise planning for infrastructure. We do not want to stand in the way of good growth, but that growth should not trample on our private property rights.
To contact your state representative and senator, visit http://fyi.capitol.texas.gov.