State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst filed legislation Wednesday that would strengthen property rights for Texans involved in eminent domain procedures with private companies.
Governments have the legal authority to seize private land for public use through eminent domain. In certain cases, however, private companies can also use eminent domain to seize private land, as long as the landowners are compensated appropriately.
Kolkhorst, who represents Victoria in Austin, is proposing more oversight of the eminent domain process when for-profit companies are involved. Kolkhorst’s legislation, Senate Bill 421, would mandate that companies using eminent domain have a public meeting to make sure that landowners understand the process. The bill would also stipulate protections for landowners and would penalize companies that offered owners less money than they’re owed.
“Since the days of Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin, Texans have valued our freedom to own private property,” the Republican lawmaker said in a news release. “To continue that proud tradition, I have filed SB 421 to see that the eminent domain process used by private entities is fair, transparent and that those entities are held accountable when they take private land.”
Across the country, eminent domain authority has frequently been invoked by oil and gas companies looking to install pipelines across private property.
The bill has the support of groups, including Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Texas Farm Bureau and Texas Wildlife Association.
“When the law allows private entities to take private property, it should also protect the rights of those property owners. They cannot walk away from the table. They only have two options – accept an offer or get taken to court,” Russell Boening, president of the Texas Farm Bureau, said in a news release. “Eminent domain reform is the property rights issue of our time. We thank the bill sponsor, Sen. Kolkhorst, and we appreciate her leadership on this important issue.”
State Rep. DeWayne Burns filed a companion bill in the House of Representatives.
Eminent domain has become a particular point of focus in Texas amid discussions of a border wall across the entire length of the U.S.-Mexico border. The federal government will almost certainly have to use eminent domain to seize land from owners along the border if it wants a border wall to stretch the entire length of the state.