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Coalition unites to secure property rights

SB 18 does not end eminent domain for private gain

Austin, TX – Today, on Texas Independence Day, a coalition of groups, TURF, Selous Foundation (Washington-based property rights foundation), TexPIRG (public interest consumer advocacy group), Public Citizen (non-profit consumer interest group), We Texans, Central Texas Republican Liberty Caucus, Stop Tarsands Oil Pipelines (STOP), Texans for Accountable Government (TAG), as well as some effected property owners, came together to demand genuine property rights protection for Texas landowners, protection they say is lacking in the fast-tracked ’emergency’ eminent domain bill, SB 18. The House Land & Resource Management Committee is expected to take up eminent domain bills Monday, March 7.

Many don’t think SB 18 goes far enough because it fails to protect to landowners from Kelo-style abuses (ie – blight, economic development, foreign-owned toll roads). It looks great in parts of subsection “b” only to undo it with all the exceptions under subsection “c.” The bill continues the authority of private entities to benefit from eminent domain in the name of a laundry list of various “public uses.” (See the bill’s loophole-laden language below)

Eminent domain for private gain became the centerpiece of the public blowback to Rick Perry’s Trans Texas Corridor and push for foreign-owned toll roads across Texas. The grassroots want language to the bill that would prevent ANY eminent domain for private gain, no exceptions.

“We’ve witnessed repeated abuses of landowners’ rights, both by weak statutes, overzealous condemning entities, and court rulings. The people of Texas deserve property rights protection. Something this fundamental to our freedom and founding principles is too important rush. The House needs to slow down and get it right,” says Terri Hall, Founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF).

“SB 18 doesn’t restrict eminent domain for economic development in the name of a ‘public use,’ like the Grand Pkwy tollway to benefit ExxonMobil, which is hardly a legitimate public necessity. The focus of any genuine eminent domain legislation needs to protect landowners from wrongful takings in the first place rather than give them loophole-laden remedies AFTER their land has already been condemned,” Hall affirmed.

“SB 18 hoodwinksTexas property owners. No sooner does the bill’s language appear to protect the rights of land owners from eminent domain abuse, then it takes it away with its exceptions. Instead of protecting Texans’ private property rights it will enshrine the Supreme Court’s notorious and unconstitutional Kelo decision forevermore in the state’s statutes, with its private use and economic development purposes,” notes Ralph Galliano of Washington-based Selous Foundation, a property rights group.

Many feel that SB 18 fails to adequately define critical terms that will help enforce and strengthen landowner protections. Terms like “public use,” “private benefit,” and “blighted areas” are left open to arbitrary interpretation. Even the bill’s authors in the Senate admit its weak and inconsistent language will continue to lead to lawsuits for Texas’ property owners. Because the bill does not include provisions that require condemning entities to compensate landowners for their legal expenses, Texas’ eminent domain laws are still skewed to favor condemning entities, not the people of Texas.

“This bill is yet another in the long list of smoke and mirror campaigns pretending to protect Texas property owners while granting more authority to quasi-governmental entities,” said We Texans Executive Director, Debra Medina. “We will stand with others in our coalition to forge true private property ownership and protection from eminent domain seizure.”

“SB18 will not increase protections for landowners,” said Melissa Cubria, Advocate, Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG). “The law will benefit utility companies, the oil and gas industry, real estate developers and even private toll road investors before it ever has the opportunity to work on behalf of the citizens and landowners of Texas.”

“The burden is placed on the people of Texas who may find themselves in lengthy, expensive legal battles with well-connected, well-funded special interests and their powerful attorneys,” Cubria concluded. “Lawmakers should adequately define critical terms that prop up landowner protections in the bill so that property owners don’t have to define the terms of the law themselves.”

Other concerns with SB 18:
Doesn’t adequately define key terms like “bonafide offer,” “blight,” “public use” or “private benefit” leaving it open to litigation to determine what these arbitrary definitions mean.

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