July 20, 2005
Eminent domain bill dead for now

Remember that bill to restrict eminent domain? Looks like it's hit a snag.

Legislation to protect private property owners from certain land seizures appeared dead Tuesday when the House refused to negotiate a final version of the bill with the Senate.

Although Senate Bill 62 may be doomed for this special session, which ends at midnight, lawmakers are likely to revive the issue if another special session is called.


Because the House and Senate passed different versions, each chamber needed to appoint members to a conference committee to work out a compromise agreement.

The Senate had agreed to negotiate with the House.

But Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, persuaded 91 representatives not to negotiate with the Senate, which he said would result in weakening the bill. Forty voted to negotiate.

"We need to do something for the property owners of Texas, and this is the only thing we have right now," Corte said. "If it's watered down, it's not worth passing."

Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, who authored the bill in the upper chamber, said he will not accept the House's version.

A major sticking point, he said, is a provision that would require governments to pay replacement value — rather than fair market value — when property is seized.

"That's just a litigation nightmare," said Janek. "I didn't like that. We have to be very careful about the wording of that bill."

So maybe trying to rush this thing through in the waning days of a special session that was supposed to be entirely focused on another topic wasn't such a good idea after all. My read of this is that the dispute is over a part of the proposed amendment which doesn't actually have anything to do with the Kelo ruling that spurred this. Here's what the DMN says:

The House version would have made cities pay more in compensation to the owners of homes and business that would be condemned under eminent-domain laws. It also would have closed a loophole that would have allowed governments to define whether a particular project was for economic development – what proponents said was akin to the wolf guarding the henhouse.

The Senate version left those provisions out of its bill, with its author, Houston GOP Sen. Kyle Janek, saying it would have destroyed the cities' abilities to proceed on community development projects.

I'm not sure where that came in. The original story in the Chron mentioned "a provision that would require a local government, if it condemned a homestead for primarily economic development purposes, to pay the homeowner the house's fair market value or its replacement cost, whichever was greater", but that's narrower than what's reportedly in dispute here. I don't support this aspect of Corte's proposal, and if he refuses to negotiate on that point then I'd prefer for the whole thing to die.

As there almost certainly will be another session, there ought to be the time to put together a proposal that has broad agreement overall and which is limited to the original scope of clarifying state law in light of Kelo. If legislators can't do that, then they can always go back to working on school finance like they were called to Austin to do.

There's apparently a UT angle in this as well. BOR's John Pruett has more on that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 20, 2005 to That's our Lege | TrackBack

A day after the Kelo decision was delivered, Freestar Media LLC submitted a proposal in the town of Weare, New Hampshire where majority opinion writer, Justice Souter, owns a farm house. They requested that the town board condemn the land and give it to them, as private developers, who promise to construct the Lost Liberty Hotel in its place. Their tax revenue would no doubt be higher than the reported $2,500 that Justice Souter paid in property taxes last year. It would create employment and attract tourism. The town has a website, and an economic development committee, which has identified its two main goals: 1) Encourage the formation of new businesses, and 2) Promote tourism. However, contrary to its stated goals and the legally sanctioned purpose of economic development, the town’s board turned down the proposal.

So much for poetic justice. Justice Souter’s influence in his community shielded him from his own ruling. No other rational justification can be found.

Thankfully, the legislative branch is now busy at work attempting to shield private property rights from the Supreme Court ruling. It seems that the two may have switched roles, with the House defending the Constitution, and the Supreme Court writing new laws.

I thought I saw Alice the other day! Or maybe it was Justice Souter –skipping in Wonderland, immune to and above the laws he passes.

Posted by: Kira Zalan on July 26, 2005 1:31 PM