In the midst of legislative efforts to further enhance private property rights making their way through the legislative process, two other bills taking the stage on the house floor today (HB 364) and Monday (HB 365) would instead unravel what property rights protections Texans have already rightly established.

House Bills 364 and 365, both authored by Democratic Representative Sylvester Turner of Houston (with Republican Rep. Dwayne Bohac of Houston as coauthor on HB 365) would essentially allow the city of Houston to violate basic property rights. The bills would allow the municipality to commandeer, through the use of eminent domain, certain parcels of private property for the purpose of economic development.

After the US Supreme Court’s Kelo decision declared open season on private property by justifying the use of eminent domain for the purposes of “economic development”, Texas immunized itself by passing additional private property protections. Now it would seem that Mr. Turner and Mr. Bohac would have us make an exception for the city of Houston and some of its condo and apartment buildings.

As written, HBs 364 and 365 would grant the city of Houston an exception to take condo or apartment buildings for economic development purposes where “all lawful occupation of or construction activity for the condominium has ceased, or reasonably appears to have ceased, for more than 365 consecutive days”. But as Texas for Public Policy Foundation’s Bill Peacock explains, “a city does not need this legislation to tear down abandoned condominium units—this can be done through the city’s police power if there is an issue of public safety.”  Additionally, Peacock goes on to lay out other existing avenues that would not infringe on important property right protections the city can use to limit dangerous and blighted structures.

What these bills really do is allow the city to take control of the actual property and re-sell it to a developer.

Property rights make up a significant portion of the bedrock on which our freedoms as Americans are placed.  Opening the door and allowing government to use these types of exemptions to circumvent property rights protections leads Texas down a dangerous slippery slope leading to further erosion of individual rights and freedoms.

Andrew Kerr is the Executive Director of Empower Texans / Texans for Fiscal Responsibility

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