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By Meghan Ashford-Grooms May 23, 2011

Perry keeps promise to boost property rights before end of May

The last time we visited Gov. Rick Perry's promise to sign eminent-domain reform into law before the legislative session's end, the Texas Senate — but not the House — had approved a proposal to limit the power of governments to seize private property. We rated the promise In the Works.

Since then, Senate Bill 18, by Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, has received initial approval from both chambers, been hashed over in a conference committee, and then passed again by both the House and the Senate.

According to a May 6 news release from Estes and news reports, the final version of the legislation says governments can seize private property only for public uses and must make a "bona fide" offer, as defined in the law, to buy the property before starting the condemnation process. The measure also allows the former owners to buy back their property for the amount the government paid if the property has not been used as planned within 10 years.

The legislation hit the governor's desk on May 9, and he signed it 10 days later — 11 days before the end of the session.

When making his promise last August, during an interview with the San Angelo Standard-Times, Perry said he felt "comfortable" that an eminent-domain bill would be "ready and probably passed and signed well before" the session was over.

We rate Perry's promise Kept.

Our Sources

Eminent domain legislation passes the Senate

In January, we moved the Perry-O-Meter to Promise Kept after Gov. Rick Perry made good on his pledge to designate eminent-domain reform as an emergency this session.

In an August interview with the San Angelo Standard-Times, Gov. Rick Perry said: "We are going to designate it an emergency issue so it doesn't get bogged down in any of the last-days-of-session type of problem."

Then he went a step further and said: "I feel very comfortable that we'll have a bill ready and probably passed and signed well before the legislative session is over."

Across the country, legislators have scrambled to tighten eminent-domain laws in the wake of a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding a community's right to take private property for an economic development purpose.

Changes in Texas have come in fits and starts.

In 2007, Perry vetoed an eminent domain bill that would have made compensation possible for "any diminished access" to a property owner's land, according to a September Austin American-Statesman news article. Perry said it could result in taxpayers paying large sums to landowners whose access was mostly intact.

Two years later, lawmakers proposed a constitutional amendment, which voters later adopted. The amendment prohibits the taking of private property for transfer to a private entity for the purpose of economic development or to increase tax revenues, according to the Texas secretary of state's office.

On Feb. 9, the Texas Senate unanimously approved legislation prohibiting a government agency or private entity from taking property through eminent domain "if the taking is not for a public use," or in the public interest. Senate Bill 18 by state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, is designed to protect property owners. The bill next moves onto the House.

Perry commended the action, saying: "Property ownership remains an essential freedom for Texans, and we must strengthen our eminent domain laws to further protect property owners. I urge the House to pass this legislation quickly, so Texans can see the benefits of this fair and necessary measure."

Legislation ready? Check. Passed in the Senate well before the end of the session? Check. Passage by the House plus the governor's signature? Not yet.

We rate this promise In the Works.

Our Sources

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