Press coverage on Prop 11, establishment ready to accept crumbs

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Prop 11 stirs eminent domain debate


By KELLEY SHANNON  / Associated Press

A proposition banning governments from taking Texans’ property for private development is last on the Nov. 3 ballot but is getting ample attention from the Republican candidates for governor, farmers and anti-toll road activists.

Prop 11 would ban state government from taking private property and giving it to a private developer to boost the local tax base, its supporters say. Property could still be seized if it’s used by the government or the public at large or to eliminate “urban blight,” according to the proposed language approved by two-thirds margins in the Texas House and Senate.

The proposed constitutional amendment, one of 11 on the November ballot, also would limit the Legislature’s authority in granting eminent domain power in the future.

With early voting beginning Monday, Gov. Rick Perry is on the same side as the Texas Farm Bureau and his Republican primary opponent, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, in promoting the proposition even though the Farm Bureau and Perry have been at odds over private property rights in connection with Perry’s now-dead plan to build a Trans-Texas Corridor toll road across the state.

For Perry, it’s a chance to cast himself as a protector of private property before the March primary.

“I hope you’ll work with us. We’re going to be very actively engaged in drawing attention to Proposition 11,” Perry told the Texas Association of Realtors last week. He said the proposed amendment would require public “ownership, use and enjoyment” of property.

“So they can’t turn and hand it over to somebody in the private sector,” he said.

Look for Perry to campaign for the proposition this coming week.

Hutchison also plans to promote it at campaign events. She recently won the farm bureau’s endorsement after opposing Perry’s Trans-Texas Corridor, which would have seized private farm and ranch land for government use. Prop 11 wouldn’t stop governments from seizing property for public roads.

Hutchison said Prop 11 is an important step toward protecting private property rights and “is the beginning of Texas’ badly needed eminent domain reform that I will help finish as governor.”

Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and a long list of state officials are taking part in a campaign to win passage of the proposition.

Opposing Prop 11 is Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, a property rights, anti-toll road group. The proposed amendment leaves loopholes for seizing property for economic development and does not address questions like diminished access to land that remains after an eminent domain seizure or relocation assistance for people displaced from their land, said Terri Hall, founder and director of TURF.

“I think it’s wide open for lots of chicanery,” Hall said. “They can take your land for who knows what (reason).”

The Texas Farm Bureau’s 421,000 members want even tougher eminent domain laws, including one to address diminished access, and got crossways with Perry over his 2007 veto of a bill that rural property owners said would have protected them from eminent domain for private uses.

Perry said he rejected the measure because it was loaded up with “personal interest legislation” and high costs for taxpayers. He said he didn’t like that the bill would have expanded damages a landowner could recover to include reduced access to property when other nearby property is condemned — that provision the farm bureau still wants.

Much of the November ballot proposition is already in Texas law, but adding it to the state constitution could give it teeth, said farm bureau president Kenneth Dierschke.

“When it comes to safeguards protecting private property, Texas laws have been lacking,” he said. “Texas Farm Bureau has fought for years to enact meaningful reforms of our eminent domain laws, but for years political games have stood in the way.”

The proposition comes as a response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed government to seize property for economic development projects, not just for public uses like roads. The court ruling allowed states to set their own laws governing such eminent domain.

Prop 11 is the last one listed on the November election ballot, but Republican Rep. Frank Corte of San Antonio, who pushed the proposal, said ballot order won’t deter interested voters.

Texas voter turnout is typically low in an off-year elections in which only propositions are on the statewide ballot. Houston is expected to see a larger turnout than many places because of its open mayor’s race.

Other proposed constitutional amendments would set aside money to develop more top-level research universities; help to establish a Veterans Administration hospital in the Rio Grande Valley; and mandate public access to Texas beaches.

Early voting runs until Oct. 30.


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