(AUSTIN, Texas)—Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) President Russell Boening today testified in favor of SB 740 before the Senate State Affairs Committee, stressing the need for fairness and transparency in eminent domain proceedings.
Texas landowners often face an uphill battle in eminent domain cases, but SB 740 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst aims to create a more fair process. Proponents of her bill seek a better solution for private property owners, while also ensuring public needs are met.
“We believe that continued development of the critical infrastructure that this state needs can co-exist with strong private property rights, and it should co-exist. All we’re asking for is adequate compensation and a more fair process in eminent domain proceedings,” Boening told the committee. “This bill, SB 740, and other filed bills, helps to accomplish that. There are too few checks and balances in place to ensure that eminent domain is exercised appropriately.”
Landowners, however, continue to struggle with adequate compensation for the taking of private property. He noted that landowners often do not challenge a condemning entity’s final offer because of the high cost to do so.
“When these amounts are too low, a landowner’s choice is either to settle or be sued. Believe, me, landowners want to avoid litigation,” Boening testified. “However, they are forced to hire an attorney and pay for an appraisal to negotiate for an amount that’s fair. There’s recourse for those who are not able to hire this attorney and defend themselves in court. We need these protections to give us fair compensation and incentivize fair offers right up front.”
Under the current law, landowners must pay attorney fees out of pocket, never allowing them to truly be made whole. Lowball early offers from some condemning entities—pipeline companies, electric utilities, public agencies and others—often discourage landowners from appealing because of those legal fees.
It’s a deck stacked against landowners, despite reforms made in previous years. But SB 740 creates an important disincentive to lowball offers and will help landowners receive more fair offers up front, Boening said.
The bill also outlines increased transparency between the condemning entity and the landowner. SB 740 would require certain project information and property rights protections in the deed or easement contract that is presented to the landowner.
Baseline property protections, Boening noted after the hearing, should be a given and not used as a bargaining chip in negotiations.
“This is critical for a level playing field,” Boening said.
About 95 percent of land in Texas is privately owned, which puts the needs of landowners in direct conflict with that of the public good.
“The condemnation process is not a ‘willing buyer,’ ‘willing seller’ transaction, but a justified taking of private property for public use. Eminent domain limits a landowner’s bargaining power and prevents them from leaving the table of a bad deal,” Boening added. “Our laws should promote the most fair process possible when it comes to the taking of private property. These are practical solutions when it comes to the taking of private property.”
SB 740 is also supported by the Texans for Property Rights Coalition, which is led by Texas Farm Bureau, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and the Texas Wildlife Association.
The coalition consists of 25 organizations committed to the preservation of Texas’ private property rights. The coalition was organized to pursue eminent domain reform during the 2017 Texas legislative session and will continue to work with legislators to secure the passage of these bills and others proposed in the House and Senate that address the need for reform.
The coalition members include: Texas Farm Bureau, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Texas Wildlife Association, Texas Association of REALTORS®, South Texas’ Property Rights Association, Texas Forestry Association, Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers Association, Texas Poultry Federation, Independent Cattlemen’s Association of Texas, Texas Grain Sorghum Association, Plains Cotton Growers Inc., Texas Land and Mineral Owners Association, Texas Association of Dairymen, Texas Cattle Feeders Association, Corn Producers Association of Texas, Riverside and Landowners Protection Coalition, Texas Grain and Feed Association, Texas Citrus Mutual, Texas Hill Country Heritage Association, Texas Coalition for Conservation, Texas Wheat Producers Association, Texas Agricultural Land Trust, Ranchers and Landowners Association of Texas, Texas Nursery and Landscape Association and the Tax Exchange Institute.