By Billy Howe
We heard it when Texas Farm Bureau fought for private property rights and eminent domain reform. We heard it when we fought for groundwater rights and surface water rights. Lately, we have heard it all again as we fight for landowners over common carrier pipelines: “What Texas Farm Bureau wants is just going to enrich trial lawyers and cause ‘thousands of lawsuits.’”
What complete nonsense!
Texas Farm Bureau is fighting for the constitutionally-guaranteed right of landowners to protect their property.
That’s lawsuit abuse?
In 1995, the Texas Legislature passed the Private Real Property Rights Protection Act, recognizing government regulation can cross the line and take private property rights without compensation. Now, when our organization fights to protect those rights from over-reaching or unfair regulation, critics claim we are trying to enrich trial lawyers and burden taxpayers with compensating property owners for the taking or devaluation of their property.
In 2005 and 2009, the legislature responded to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo decision by enacting new laws and constitutional protections against taking property to enrich private companies or individuals. Now that a few landowners have been successful in defending their property from being taken by a private company for private–not public–use, some want new laws to restrict the landowner’s rights in court.
Tort reform groups such as Texans for Lawsuit Reform and the Texas Civil Justice League say Texas Farm Bureau and other groups who advocate for private property rights are trying to cause “class action” lawsuits against pipeline companies condemning our members’ land.
Really? Landowners joining together to hire an attorney to protect their property rights against a multi-million-dollar pipeline company is a “class action” lawsuit?
In 2011, we finally passed eminent domain reforms in Texas. During that debate, we heard those who represent thousands of entities with eminent domain power tell the Legislature that the poor taxpayer will suffer by paying more to build public projects. By actually saying this, they’ve admitted to paying property owners less than market value for years. After all, that is what the law requires—fair market value—nothing more.
The comforting fact is that these are constitutional protections. They are in not only the state Constitution, but the U.S. Constitution as well. Our founding fathers understood that without guaranteed private property rights, property owners could be run over by the majority in the name of the public good or economic development.
No matter the make-up of our state or national population, our Congress or the Legislature, these rights give us a chance to defend ourselves in the courthouse.
So, the opponents of private property rights can use whatever tactics they feel are effective against us. At the end of the day, we have private property rights and a place to defend them.
These are the checks and balances our forefathers envisioned. We WILL fight to keep those rights.