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