Cattlemen’s Column: Leveling the eminent domain playing field
By Richard Thorpe, president, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association
When you defend a philosophy and try to create change for the better, there will be opposition from those who have a different philosophy and from those who like things the way they are.
TSCRA leaders and many other Texas-based organizations have taken an aggressive, offensive approach to eminent domain reform in the 2017 session of the Texas Legislature. These organizations have formed the Texans for Property Rights coalition to better defend against the opposition that has already begun to emerge.
Pipeline and power line companies and cities are among that opposition and are pushing the message that eminent domain reform will increase litigation. They claim eminent domain reform will result in more lawsuits, making trial lawyers’ dreams come true. I’m sorry to burst the dream, but our eminent domain reform goals are well thought out, reasonable and not designed to increase lawsuits. In fact, these changes are meant to decrease the amount of litigation necessary for both landowners and condemning entities. By providing a better initial offer to landowners, it will be less likely that the transaction will need to be resolved in the courtroom.
Landowners are at a huge disadvantage when dealing with the condemnation process and the Texans for Property Rights initiative will begin to level that playing field.
It’s harder to play offense than it is defense, which is why we have more than doubled our work on this issue. We are talking to legislators about supporting the change, educating them on why eminent domain reform is necessary, and answering opponents’ allegations with sound solutions and examples of real-life landowner problems. To see some of these examples firsthand, visit our website at www.texansforpropertyrights.com.
We are asking anyone who believes private property rights are of paramount importance to our state to contact your state representative and state senator today, and let them know you support eminent domain reform and private property rights.
We urge you to remind legislators that landowners, not the pipeline and power line companies, voted them into office.
In 2011, the Texas Legislature enacted Senate Bill 18, which included a provision that an entity with eminent domain authority that wants to acquire real property from a property owner must make a “bona fide offer.”
A component of the Texans for Property Rights initiative is to beef up the bona fide offer section of the law. This means including details up-front for the property owner about how their land will be used and maintained through the life of the easement.
TSCRA recently conducted a survey and the feedback from our members revealed this is a real issue that must be addressed.
For an example, one landowner stated, “It’s been a continuous headache: fences are being torn down and not being rebuilt resulting in cattle getting out, brush has been left unprocessed in creek bottoms and they are coming in during wet conditions and leaving deep ruts in the creek bottoms.”
This is just one of the many stories we hear about on a daily basis and why we are so intent on providing a solution.
Making this important change to state law requires the utmost effort from all TSCRA members, leaders, staff and every Texan who believes in their inherent right to private property. There are many components to eminent domain reform, and the bona fide offer is only one part of what we’re working to address this session. To learn more visit www.texansforpropertyrights.com.
Richard Thorpe, III is the owner and operator of Mesa T Ranch, headquartered in Winters, Texas. Thorpe currently serves as the president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and became a director in March 2006.