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Dallas Business Journal
Steve Habel

The Texas Senate has passed a bill that its authors said will strengthen protections for property owners by closing a loophole in the state’s eminent domain law. That loophole, the bill’s proponents said, has allowed private and government entities to seize property at unfair prices by placing the onus and financial burden on property owners to challenge such taking in court.

Critics, however, say the new measure still panders to special interests and is not specific enough.

SB 18 won unanimous approval in the Senate after Gov. Rick Perry put it on the fast track for action at the beginning of the 82nd Legislative session. The bill garnered wide support from a coalition of pipeline companies, wildlife conservationists, utility companies, ranch and farm groups, property rights advocates and local governments.

It goes to the House, where it is expected to pass.

The bill grants property owners more rights concerning easements through their land, prohibits a governmental agency or private entity from seizing property through eminent domain “if the taking is not for a public use,” and grants property owners the opportunity to buy back property if the project for which it was taken is not started in 10 years.

It also requires entities that want to exercise eminent domain to register with the state and mandates that offers tendered for the targeted property be bona fide to prevent lowballing of landowners.

Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, is author of HB 279, its companion bill in the Texas House.

“This bill provides protection for Texas landowners, and there are a lot of people that will support that protection,” Geren said.

The Texas Farm Bureau is enthusiastic about the measure. Other interest groups got behind the bill despite concerns.

“The bill is not perfect, but do we really want to wait around for something that has no flaws while the landowners are being adversely affected by the current law?” said Farm Bureau Spokesman Gene Hall.

Read more: Lawmakers seek to alter eminent domain law | Dallas Business Journal

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