Vote NO on Prop 11, it's counterfeit eminent domain reform

Prop 11 is window dressing for eminent domain reform
By Terri Hall
Express-News/Houston Examiner
Sunday, October 18, 2009
We’ve been down this road before…lawmakers write a convoluted amendment to the Texas Constitution that comes back to haunt us when we find out what politicians will do with it once we leave the polls. Proposition 11 is one of those amendments. We witnessed Governor Rick Perry weaken this legislation all through the 81st Legislature to reduce the amendment to a virtually meaningless attempt at eminent domain reform.

You have to ask yourself, if Rick Perry vetoed REAL eminent domain reform in 2007 (HB 2006), why would Perry stage a photo-op ceremonial signing of this constitutional amendment in front of the Alamo in 2009 when it didn’t even need his signature? Because it’s not genuine eminent domain reform. His show-boating is because he’s running for re-election, and he knows that veto of HB 2006 cost him the Farm Bureau’s endorsement.

Why did Perry veto the bill? Because it would interfere with his Trans Texas Corridor that is slated to gobble-up massive swaths of private property (4 football fields wide, biggest land grab in Texas history) and give it to foreign corporations in sweetheart deals with guaranteed 12-19% annual profits by charging Texans hefty tolls to use what should be a public road!

The logical course of action by the Texas Legislature would have been to dust off HB 2006, introduce the same bill again, and pass it early in the session so the Legislature could override the expected gubernatorial veto. But that’s not what the Legislature did. They allowed Perry and his cronies to use eminent domain reform as a bargaining chip all session long (to re-authorize the controversial contracts called CDAs that sell our Texas highways to foreign companies). Meanwhile, he and the special interests chipped away at the strength of the private property protections originally found in HB 2006.

So Prop 11 is Perry’s fabricated version of eminent domain reform to serve as penance for his veto. But once one examines the language, it’s clear it doesn’t remotely resemble genuine property rights protection as he claims it does.

So many flaws, so little time

What are the flaws of Prop 11? Economic development isn’t defined. Public use isn’t clearly defined nor limited. Good faith negotiations for offers of “adequate compensation” (the current constitutional language) aren’t required. Urban blight isn’t defined, and even though the legislative committees writing the bill couldn’t accurately discern the voluminous entities that currently have eminent domain powers, Prop 11 continues to allow the Legislature the power to grant yet more undefined “entities” the power of eminent domain for “public use,” which Perry ensured still included privatizing Texas roads to benefit foreign entities.

Proposition 11 says: “The constitutional amendment to prohibit the taking, damaging, or destroying of private property for public use unless the action is for the ownership, use, and enjoyment of the property by the State, a political subdivision of the State, the public at large, or entities granted the power of eminent domain under law or for the elimination of urban blight on a particular parcel of property, but not for certain economic development or enhancement of tax revenue purposes, and to limit the legislature’s authority to grant the power of eminent domain to an entity.”

It states property cannot be taken using eminent domain UNLESS it’s for public use for “entities” granted the power of eminent domain OR for the elimination of urban blight, but not for “certain economic development or enhancement of tax revenue purposes.”

The loopholes in that language are so wide you could drive a truck through them! Any true eminent domain reform that would protect us from the Supreme Court Kelo case would include:

– Strong definition of public use limiting eminent domain for ANY economic development and tax enhancement purposes
– Good faith negotiations (prevent entities from low-balling landowners and forcing them to hire expensive lawyers to get fair market value)
– Compensation for diminished access to a landowner’s property
– Limit the granting of eminent domain to any further entities without a vote of the people
– Relocation assistance for displaced landowners
– Ability to buy land back at original cost after 10 years if the State doesn’t use it

State lawmakers could have hit a home run and FINALLY delivered TRUE eminent domain reform. But they let Perry and politics get in the way of protecting YOUR property rights, and as usual, settled for scraps from the master’s table. The authors of the bill even admitted upon final passage that this amendment falls short, and that there’s still a long way to go on eminent domain reform. They expect us to choke down a milquetoast amendment that’s little more than window dressing so that they can claim some level of victory? Thanks, but no thanks!

If Texans vote for this amendment, it’s likely no further private property rights reform will EVER happen, especially if Rick Perry remains the Governor. We must demand protection from the eminent domain abuse that the Kelo case wrought. We’ve been waiting for 3 years, and would have had it in 2007 had Perry not wielded his veto pen. When over half the states have passed laws or changed their constitutions to protect landowners from the eminent domain abuses of Kelo, our politicians have left Texans vulnerable.

Insist on authentic private property protection and vote NO on Prop 11. It’s hazardous to your freedom!