Eminent domain bills filed in 87th Texas Legislature

By Jennifer Dorsett 

Farmers, ranchers and property owners across the Lone Star State continue to struggle with unfair processes when dealing with eminent domain in Texas. As a result, eminent domain reform remains a top legislative priority issue for Texas Farm Bureau (TFB).

And this legislative session, two bills have already been filed by Rep. DeWayne Burns of Johnson County to address some of these issues, according to TFB Associate Legislative Director Joy Davis.

HB 901 picks up where negotiations left off during the 86th Legislature in 2019.

“This bill includes agreements that were made on bona fide offers and required easement terms made to landowners. This only applies to private companies,” Davis said. “It does not, however, have the language that was included last legislative session regarding the meetings, because there was not an agreement that could be made on the meetings that would provide landowners with the information they needed in a timely manner. So, that was not included in HB 901 this time.”

Davis was referring to public property owner meetings TFB advocated for during the last legislative session. The public meetings would have allowed property owners greater transparency in the eminent domain process by connecting property owners in the same area where multiple eminent domain offers were being made by the same company.

The second bill Burns filed, HB 902, involves language provided by the oil and gas industry, through the Coalition for Critical Infrastructure.

“This is language they have developed between last session and this legislative session. A main difference between this bill and HB 901 is that it applies to both public and private companies,” Davis said. “Also, it does not require that damages to the remainder be included in the initial offer. And it includes that the initial offer can be based on the property’s tax appraisal, which is something we strongly opposed last session. I know HB 901 is the bill that Rep. Burns wants to push, and it is the one that is going to be backed by most of the landowner groups. There might be some language from HB 902 that makes it into HB 901, but we’re looking for HB 901 to make its way through the legislative process this session.”

No bills have been filed in the Texas Senate regarding eminent domain at this time. However, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst is expected to sponsor eminent domain reform in the upper chamber again this session.

In the meantime, TFB and other property rights groups remain committed to landowners across the state and to making sure eminent domain authority is used fairly and properly.

“What we want to do is create effective change for landowners so that they’re treated fairly. We’re pro- oil and gas exploration. I think we sometimes get branded unfairly as against them,” Davis said. “But all we want is to be treated fairly whenever pipelines, transmission lines, anything like that comes in. We’re the landowners, and we want to be treated fairly in this process.”

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