Eminent domain is not a glamorous issue, but it is an important one. Property rights advocates won a small victory in 2007 when Texans voted for Proposition 7. This was a step in the right direction, but we still have a lot of work to do.
State Representative Frank Corte (R-San Antonio) has taken some action on the issue. He has introduced HB 37, which deals with the case of “blighted” areas. Corte’s bill adds a requirement that blighted areas must be a threat to public health and safety before being seized under eminent domain. Corte has also introduced HJR 14, a proposal for a constitutional amendment to limit eminent domain to cases where the property is “necessary for the possession, occupation, and enjoyment of the property by the public at large or by the State or a political subdivision of the State”. While HB 37 and HJR 14 are not as bold as they could be, they could help to diminish government takings in the long run. After Hurricane Ike, it is crucial that property rights advocates push for clearer language related to condemned land and “community development programs”.
In the State Senate, Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) has introduced SB 219. This bill deals with eminent domain in cases where the land is to be used for “recreational purposes”. This includes “parks, trails and greenbelts”. The best part of the bill is the second section, which amends the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Code. The new language would prohibit the department from acquiring private property through condemnation.