Eminent Domain Passes the Senate


The Senate unanimously passed legislation addressing a second of Gov. Perry’s emergency items Wednesday—eminent domain. SB 18, carried by Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, amends current eminent domain procedure, providing added protection to Texas landowners. An identical bill was passed in the Senate last session but died in the House. This year the bill was a no brainer. The debate lasted less than an hour before Senate lawmakers passed the bill 31-0.

The bill limits eminent domain for “public use” projects only— including things like museums, universities and hospitals, but doesn’t exclude things like toll roads and oil pipelines.

The bill also includes a number of provisions that Estes deemed, “fundamental to economic and personal liberty,” including a fair compensation provision that would protect landowners from being “lowballed,” and a repurchasing provision that would allow landowners to buy back their land if projects are cancelled or no progress is made after 10 years.

“The goal is to make the whole condemnation process more transparent” Estes said.

But the bill may not be so transparent after all. The provisions outlined in the SB 18 are no doubt a victory for landowners. But some critics say the bill doesn’t do enough and may even hurt landowners in the end.

One big point of contention is the slight change in language from “government entity” to simply “entity” that is found in many parts of the bill. This expands the number of entities that could qualify for eminent domain authority.

Entities like Cintra, the Spanish toll road company whose public private partnership projects Perry promised to promote this session, and TransCanada the Canadian oil and gas company that has already received eminent domain authority from the Railroad Commission for its proposed Keystone tarsands oil pipeline that would run from Alberta through East Texas.