The right to own and enjoy private property is one of the most basic rights of our free society. The 80th Legislature clearly understood that in passing HB 2006, which provides owners of private property with necessary protections and checks against the government power of eminent domain. According to its author, State Rep. Beverly Woolley (R-Houston), the bill attempts to “make condemnation a level playing field,” since the current eminent domain laws are “tilted in favor of condemning entities and against property owners.”
Eminent domain, also referred to as condemnation, is the process by which government takes property from the private owner for a stated public use, such as the construction of a highway. The Texas Constitution qualifies the raw power of eminent domain with two requirements: lands that are taken must be put to “public use” and “adequate compensation” must be provided to the aggrieved owners.
Courts have watered down those protections through increasingly broad interpretations. The State Supreme Court, for example, has made eminent domain a cheaper and easier option for governments, to the detriment of Texans’ private property rights.
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Kelo case that economic development can serve as a “public use,” ? that is, businesses need not purchase their own properties; the government can just condemn property for them. In the dissenting opinion, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor warned, “Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory.”
Thankfully, HB 2006 rights those wrongs. By narrowly defining “public use,” the bill limits frivolous takings. Shopping malls are great, but they are not a “public use” that warrants seizing homes and businesses.
The bill requires that a government make a “bona fide offer” to purchase property before taking it. Sitting down eye-to-eye and face-to face before a condemnation is the adult way to solve things. Without a “bona fide offer” to purchase, eminent domain is nothing more than the bully kid on the playground - grabbing and pushing.
HB 2006 requires that courts consider all factors in determining “adequate compensation”. The bill also contains various measures of transparency so that when it comes to eminent domain, everything is conducted under the watchful eyes of interested individuals and voters.
Property owners’ sighs of relief, however, may be premature. Governor Rick Perry has threatened to veto HB 2006. The Texas Department of Transportation, it seems, has told the Governor that if the bill is signed into law, the cost of road construction will skyrocket. Despite the threats of TxDOT, HB 2006 does not stop transportation projects. HB 2006 simply reinstates and restores many of the rules that TxDOT operated under for decades. Roads were constructed before, and they will continue to be constructed.
Mexia TX Daily News: http://www.mexiadailynews.com
Gina Parker Ford, CEO of a dental manufacturing company and an attorney, is the National Eagle Forum Chairman for Judicial Reform. Mrs. Ford also served as a Bush and Perry appointee to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. She serves on the American Family Radio Advisory Board (Texas), and she was both the former Republican Party of Texas Treasurer and Associate General Counsel. For more information: www.ginaparker.net