HB 2748 is bad news for eminent domain in Texas

By Steve Pringle

TFB Legislative Director

For years, Texas claimed to be a property rights state. Our politicians waxed eloquent on the stump about the sanctity of private property in Texas. Sometimes you get the idea that Davy Crockett died at the Alamo strictly because of Mexico’s eminent domain policy. It was, however, a sham. Texas, until the legislative session of 2011, had one of the nation’s worst eminent domain laws.

In that session, a decade-long battle resulted in substantial improvement. Now, only two years later, the Legislature is poised to surrender many of the gains in that landmark legislation. It’s called House Bill 2748 and it’s one of the worst ideas to emerge in the Legislature this session. If it passes, we’ll no longer be certain that private lands will not be taken to enrich other private interests. It once again greases the skids for pipeline companies to take private property—as they used to tell so many—“because we can.”

To be sure, Texas politicians always served a heaping helping of rhetorical outrage on eminent domain. The trouble is, most of that angst was reserved for eminent domain by government. Nothing whips up voter outrage in Texas quite like attacking government. But when eminent domain abuse is perpetrated by corporations like pipeline companies, the outrage of elected officials melts away quicker than ice cream in August.

Is HB 2748 really bad? You tell me.

  • It fails to include mailed notice to affected landowners of a permit application hearing whose property falls within a county where part of a pipeline may be located.
  • It creates a very short window of opportunity for a landowner to register their protest and become eligible to participate in the application review hearing–21 days is too short.  No kidding.  How could there be someone writing bills who thought this might be a good idea?
  • HB 2748 establishes that an approved order by the Railroad Commission is a ”conclusive determination” for the purpose of judicial review, which limits a landowner from appealing the decision to a district court and offer new evidence not provided to the agency.
  • It does not provide for a meaningful review of the private company permit application, nor does it outline exact evidence requirements for a private company to prove they will operate as a “common carrier” provider.

The idea behind eminent domain reform in 2011 was that it should be difficult. Everyone recognizes that eminent domain is a useful tool of government and commerce. At its best, it’s a necessary evil. Taking private property should be hard, time-consuming and a last resort.

I’ve been told, “Texas is an oil and gas state. The pipeline companies are going to get their way on this.” Maybe. I think it should be possible for Texas to be both an energy state and a private property rights state. If HB 2748 passes, the next time a politician tells you about Texas’ strong property rights law, it won’t apply to oil and gas corporations. Once again, farmers, ranchers and property owners will say, “They told us they are taking it because they can.”

Editor’s note: Farm Bureau opposes HB 2748 by Lewis. Please take action to protect your private property rights! Email your state representative: http://www.capwiz.com/txfb/state/main/?state=TX

8 Responses to “HB 2748 is bad news for eminent domain in Texas”

  1. Gene Hall says:

    Pipeline companies were among the worst offenders in taking property without regard for the concerns of property owners. Farm Bureau members often told us – quite emotionally – “They said they are taking it ‘because we can.’ There is no reason that pipeline companies and all others with taking power can’t live within the restraints of 2011’s Eminent Domain Reform. It’s not supposed to be easy to take property. It’s sometimes necessary, and when it is, it should be difficult.

  2. Steve Pringle says:

    Texas has always been an oil and gas state, and will continue to be so if this bill passes. The only way this changes is if citizens contact their Texas Legislative offices. They are about to undo many of the property owner gains made in eminent domain last session.

  3. another way this can be avoided is if people will go to Austin and testify against this bill when it goes to committee. The only way to truly make your voice heard on issues like this is to go in person and make them listen to you. It works! I’ve done it and will continue to do this on bills that make my blood boil when they begin to overstep their bounds. Find out when it’s up for a hearing and make the trip! MAKE THE TRIP!

    • I just checked on this bill and it’s already made it out of committee and is ready to be voted on, if it wasn’t voted on May 1st. But the lesson here is still to make the trip on ANY bill that you can testify for or against. It’s the best way to be taken seriously and to let them know they’re being watched.

      • Mike Barnett says:

        The bill is scheduled to be voted on today. Good tip–also stay in close contact with those you vote for, including personal visits.

  4. martin says:

    There are other considerations not being brought here. Yes I work for a pipeline company and yes we have the right of eminent domain, but it is I promise you used as a means of last resort. Most of the problems encountered are NOT with small land owners but with land owners who are trying to keep their smaller neighbors gas from going to market. When condemnation procedures begin, it is nasty for all concerned

  5. Gene Hall says:

    Martin, thanks for adding your perspective. Texas Farm Bureau has never said that NO action should be taken. A few amendments to this bill or the Oliveria bill might be viewed differently. However, this bill, 2748, reduces this process to practically a “drive by” status. A little basic respect for these landowners and a close look at internal procedures would not hurt the pipeline industry. We heard too much of “we are taking it because we can” or there to not be some substance to it. Thanks for the post. We may have more opportunity to discuss.

  6. Julia Adams says:

    There’s more than one way for the government and private companies to take your land, and some are much more devious than you can imagine. The city of Dallas seems to believe that if it just keeps enough lawyers on its payroll, they can coerce landowners into selling out cheap or even giving away their land. I have recently seen and personally experienced this as the owner of 100 undeveloped acres inside Dallas. The city attorneys are paid to harrass landowners over alleged code violations, some of which are literally caused by the city. Last year, a city contractor dumped hundreds of cubic yards of tree waste and soil that had been removed from creek beds onto my adjacent property. Since I don’t live in Dallas, I knew nothing about this until the code enforcement attorney threatened me with $1,000 a day fines. It cost over $10,000 to clean up–at my expense. Later, a city employee and another man who works for the city contractor admitted they knew about the illegal dumping but never made any effort to contact me and offer to clean it up. Then the city attorney told us we can no longer keep livestock where we have kept livestock for over 60 years because the city has changed the zoning. I’m still working to overturn their decision and recover the cleanup money. But ultimately, what they are doing looks like an effort to make it impossible to use the property in any way that we can afford, so that we will just give up and let the city have our land. The city of Dallas already owns many undeveloped acres of land in this area, and I believe it’s part of a plan to take land from owners who can’t pay the taxes on it during hard times, then sell it later for the city’s profit when the real estate market improves. This is worse than eminent domain.

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