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Eminent domain is the legal authority for certain government and private entities to take private property for public use.

While property can only be taken for uses that serve the general public, the owner must be given just or adequate compensation. In response to a 2005 Supreme Court decision allowing seizure of homes for economic development, Texans amended the state constitution prohibiting eminent domain to boost tax revenue or economic development.

But as the process has grown in usage, private entities and even some local officials have found loopholes to use their eminent domain authority to benefit themselves and developers. Most would expect “public use” to mean roads, water lines or electricity, not high speed rail developments like the one currently being proposed.

Even with that prohibition in place, Texas property owners still aren’t fully protected. Some local governments are taking property through the process of amortization.

Amortization allows Texas cities to use zoning laws to strip property owners of their right to use their land as they wish. By changing the zoning boundaries and purposes, cities can take property it if is “nonconforming” with the current or updated ordinances, save for Houston, which is the only major city in Texas, and the country, without zoning laws. 

State lawmakers should reform both the eminent domain and the amortization processes to protect Texans from being unjustly forced off of their private property for reasons that don’t serve the overall public.

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