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Statement from Melissa Cubria, Advocate, TexPIRG:
“Officials fast tracked legislation masked as eminent domain reform through the Senate today without giving the public adequate opportunity to participate in the process. Cloaked in the guise of eminent domain reform, Texas State Senators rammed through legislation that will benefit utility companies, the oil and gas industry, real estate developers and even private toll road investors before it ever has the opportunity to work on behalf of the citizens and landowners of Texas.
“There are so many loopholes in SB 18, it is hard to know where the bill begins and ends. On the first page, language in the bill enables government and private entities to com-mingle. Governmental entities can create private corporations and act on their behalf thus blurring the line between public and private—a consequence of private toll road deals such as the ones used to finance the Trans-Texas Corridor and other private toll road that have since emerged. The lack of distinction between private and public entities unravels most of the landowner protections built into the bill, which are only enforceable depending upon the category the entity belongs to.
“Another major issue with SB 18 is that despite having worked on this bill for four years, lawmakers still failed to adequately define critical terms that will help enforce and strengthen landowner protections while including pages upon pages of excessive legalese. Terms like "public use,” “private benefit,” and “blighted areas” are left open to arbitrary interpretation, which will almost certainly lead to lawsuits. Both Senator Estes and Duncan, authors of the bill, acknowledged that eminent domain may come up again next session after lawsuits have been filed and problems have arisen.
“So if SB 18 doesn’t actually reform eminent domain and will continue to create legal challenges for landowners and unnecessary legal expense for the state, then what’s the rush? What is the emergency? Why not just get it right the first time?
“There are a few probable reasons lawmakers rammed this bill through without receiving adequate public input. As Senator Estes said in a legislative committee hearing, this is a special interest bill. Similarly, a legal expert on the issue who represents landowners in eminent domain cases and who reviewed the bill, agrees that this legislation is a special interest’s dream come true.
“SB 18 is a phony attempt to appease landowners, whom for years have been outspoken and vocal against profit-driven eminent domain practices that enable private entities to repurchase land for economic development. Sound familiar? SB 18 is the Trans Texas Corridor on steroids—minus the private toll roads of course—but we can expect to see a bill to reauthorize those coming down the pipeline any day now.”
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