Property owners should be afforded more protection when governmental entities try to take their land through the eminent domain process, Gov. Rick Perry said in a brief speech in Abilene on Thursday.
Perry was joined at Frontier Texas! by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, Abilene Mayor Norm Archibald and Tom Perini, a local restaurateur and honorary director of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.
“Unfortunately there have been some misguided legal opinions over the course of the last decade, in particular, that kind of put us on edge and gave government entities the right to practice eminent domain in ways that I think our founding fathers never meant for it to be,” said Perry, who spoke about the issue in Abilene and Lubbock on Thursday. “And landowners’ faith in their future is now cast in doubt.”
Earlier this year, Perry declared eminent domain an emergency issue for the current legislative session, and he is now backing a Senate bill that would boost protections for landowners.
Among other requirements in the bill, governmental entities would have to offer landowners a legitimate price – instead of a “lowball” offer – for their property before using eminent domain to take the land, Perry said.
Also, landowners would have the option of buying back their land for the price they were paid for it if it wasn’t used as it was intended to be.
Agencies of various levels are authorized to seize land and give it to other private entities in the name of economic development, but Perry said they shouldn’t have free rein.
“We’re all for economic development, but we’re about doing it the right and appropriate way,” Perry said.
Perry is backing Senate Bill 18, which was approved by the State Affairs Committee and then by the full Senate in February. Sens. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, and Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, authored the bill, and 26 of their colleagues signed on as co-authors.
It moved to the House and was voted out of the Land and Resource Management Committee on March 22.
Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, whose district includes several Big Country counties, and Rep. Susan King, R-Abilene, both signed on as co-authors of the measure in their respective chambers.
Perini, who spoke with Perry on Thursday in his capacity with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, said landowner rights need to be preserved.
“We don’t ever want to lose the right to be property owners,” Perini said, adding that he believes the legislation would put landowners on a level playing field with governmental entities. “I don’t think anybody likes to have anything taken away from them.”
Perry’s plan to build a Trans-Texas Corridor – which he introduced early last decade but declared dead in 2010 – would have exercised eminent domain to make room for a vast transportation network.
When asked after the speech about Perry’s stance on eminent domain and how it relates to his Trans-Texas Corridor plan, spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said Perry understands eminent domain will be necessary in a growing state. But she said he believes it needs to be a fair process.
“We have to strike a balance between a growing population and ensuring that private landowner rights are protected,” Frazier said.
Jim Turner and his daughter Linda Hensley heard that Perry was going to speak in Abilene and drove in from the family farm near Sylvester to hear what he had to say.
They’ve been worrying about property owner rights after learning months ago that a major transmission line likely would be built about 400 to 500 feet from Turner’s house. The state is building transmission lines to carry electricity from wind turbines to more populous parts of the state.
“I’m tickled to death to know they’re running legislation through to protect landowners,” Hensley said.
The bill discussed Thursday may not help them with their specific concern – the proximity of the transmission line to Turner’s house – but Perry wrote down their phone number and they hope to be contacted soon.
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