By Gene Hall

Texas’ reputation as a private property rights state is somewhat overrated. Some of our political leaders talk about it a lot, but our failure to address eminent domain reform in a meaningful way is proof enough that we are not what some claim we are. Still, Texans undeniably care about property rights. That is the reason there is real hope that we break through the entrenched interests that like eminent domain the way it is. 

Texas needs eminent domain reform.

Some of my conservative friends feel they are on safe ground condemning government entities for abuses, yet, some of the most egregious cases have been at the hands of corporate entities with eminent domain authority. The list of folks who would rather not see reform is long. It does include municipalities, other government entities, pipeline companies, utilities, water districts and more. No one even knows how many entities have the power of eminent domain.

One thing we hear from our Farm Bureau members over and over again is this grating response, “We were told they’re taking it because they can.” Some basic customer relations training may be in order. Often, the taking authority offers less, knowing that only the most stubborn folks, with deeper pockets, can afford to fight them.

There are many things that can be done in the interest of fairness. Use existing rights-of-way whenever possible; minimize the damage to existing structures; clean up the mess; work with landowners instead of rolling over them. To be fair, all of this is done to some degree. Still, there is great anger from many who’ve experienced the process.

Eminent domain has been a part of law for more than four centuries. It came to the New World as part of European common law. It is so firmly established that it is useless to fight as a concept. I have myself described it as a necessary evil that is sometimes employed for the common good. At its best, it’s still evil. It’s always powerfully inconvenient. At times, it’s tragic.

Yet, Texas is growing so rapidly. The new Texans making their way here and those yet to be born will need roads, water, power and the infrastructure necessary to accomplish this. There is no way all of this can be stopped.

That’s why the efforts to reform eminent domain have focused on compensation. It’s ridiculous that a good faith offer is not even required to begin the proceedings. Market value is whatever the taking authority says it is. It’s also outrageous that property can be diminished in value with no compensation whatsoever. This has to change. 

Twice the legislature has been on the cusp of true reform. It has been derailed both times, once by veto and once by partisan bickering over another issue.

Yet, Texans have a powerful sense of fairness. Once again, those who are properly ashamed of our Texas eminent domain laws will attempt reform. When we get there, Texas will become the property rights state we now only pretend to be.




Gene Hall

Public Relations Director
Texas Farm Bureau
I believe that the only hope for a food secure world is capitalism and reasonable profits for America’s farm and ranch families–that the first element of sustainability is economic survival.
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