Texas Agriculture April 21, 2017 : Page 6

Landowners seek eminent domain reform By Julie Tomascik Editor Texas landowners struggle to re-ceive adequate compensation for the taking of their private property un-der current eminent domain law, and reform is needed this legislative ses-sion. That was the resounding mes-sage from Texas Farm Bureau Presi-dent Russell Boening, who recently testified before committees in both the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate. Boening stressed the need for fair-ness and transparency in eminent domain proceedings at a hearing of the Senate State Affairs Committee on April 3, where he testified in sup-port of SB 740. Texas landowners often face an uphill battle in eminent domain cases, but SB 740 by Sen. Lois Kolk-horst (R-Brenham) aims to create a more fair process. Proponents of her bill seek a better solution for private property owners, while also ensuring public needs are met. “We believe that continued devel-opment of the critical infrastructure that this state needs can co-exist with strong private property rights, and it should co-exist. All we’re ask-ing for is adequate compensation and a more fair process in eminent domain proceedings,” Boening told the committee. “This bill, SB 740, and other filed bills, helps to accom-plish that.” Landowners, however, continue to struggle with adequate compensa-tion for the taking of private prop-erty. He noted that landowners often do not challenge a condemning en-tity’s final offer because of the high cost to do so. “When these amounts are too low, a landowner’s choice is either to set-tle or be sued. Believe me, landown-ers want to avoid litigation,” Boening testified. “However, they are forced to hire an attorney and pay for an appraisal to negotiate for an amount that’s fair. There’s recourse for those who are not able to hire this attor-ney and defend themselves in court. We need these protections to give us fair compensation and incentivize fair offers right up front.” Under the current law, landown-ers must pay attorney fees out of pocket, never allowing them to truly be made whole. Low initial offers from some condemning entities ini-tiates a negotiation process where landowners have little leverage. If entities come back with low final of-fers, landowners are often discour-aged from challenging due to what it might cost to hire professional help. It’s a deck stacked against land-owners, despite reforms made in previous years. But SB 740 creates an important disincentive to lowball offers and will help landowners re-ceive more fair offers up front, Boen-ing said. The bill also outlines increased transparency between the condemn-ing entity and the landowner. SB 740 would require certain project information and property rights pro-tections in the deed or easement con-tract that is presented to the land-owner. Baseline property protections, Boening noted after the hearing, should be a given and not used as a bargaining chip in negotiations. He echoed those sentiments in his testimony in support of HB 2684 at an April 12 hearing of the House Land and Resource Management Committee. The bill, filed by Rep. DeWayne Burns (R-Cleburne), outlines re-quirements that would make emi-nent domain a more fair process for private property owners. “We feel like there are too few checks and balances in place to en-sure the eminent domain process is exercised appropriately,” Boening said. “We’ve heard it from our mem-bers before where landmen admitted Texas Farm Bureau President Russell Boening testifies in favor of HB 2684, HB 2694 and HB 3687 before the House Land and Resource Management Committee. they were authorized to make that initial offer ‘low enough.’ If that ini-tial offer had not been so low, maybe that awarded offer would not seem so high.” Texas landowners face a future of continued demand for their land. With many potential projects on the horizon, proponents of the bill are looking for a legislative fix. “When offers are too low, the land-owners’ only choice is to settle or be sued,” Boening said. “If you don’t have the money to hire an attorney, you settle. Those who hire an attor-ney and win, you’re still not going to be adequately compensated. You pay your attorney.” HB 2684 would provide a disin-centive for condemning entities to provide landowners with lowball offers, and therefore offering a fair market price up front. “The condemnation process is not a willing buyer and a willing seller,” Boening said. “Landowners are often land rich and cash poor. It’s impor-tant that their land be thought of in its full value.” Boening stressed to the commit-tee that most landowners want to avoid litigation. To do so, the current process would need to be reformed. HB 2684 also outlines that certain project information and property rights protections would be required in the deed or easement contract that entities present to landowners. Those property protections would include repairing damages to land outside the easement area, locking and closing gates, as well as knowl-edge of how many pipelines and electric poles will go into the ease-ment area. Boening also testified in favor of HB 2694 authored by Rep. Kyle Ka-cal (R-Bryan) and HB 3687 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin). The bills are also supported by the Texans for Property Rights Co-alition, which is led by Texas Farm Bureau, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and the Texas Wildlife Association. The coalition consists of 25 or-ganizations committed to the pres-ervation of Texas’ private property rights. The coalition was organized to pursue eminent domain reform during the 2017 Texas legislative session and will continue to work with legislators to secure the pas-sage of these bills and others pro-posed in the House and Senate that address the need for reform. 6 A PRIL 21 , 2017

Landowners Seek Eminent Domain Reform

Julie Tomascik

Texas landowners struggle to receive adequate compensation for the taking of their private property under current eminent domain law, and reform is needed this legislative session. That was the resounding message from Texas Farm Bureau President Russell Boening, who recently testified before committees in both the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate.

Boening stressed the need for fairness and transparency in eminent domain proceedings at a hearing of the Senate State Affairs Committee on April 3, where he testified in support of SB 740.

Texas landowners often face an uphill battle in eminent domain cases, but SB 740 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) aims to create a more fair process. Proponents of her bill seek a better solution for private property owners, while also ensuring public needs are met.

“We believe that continued development of the critical infrastructure that this state needs can co-exist with strong private property rights, and it should co-exist. All we’re asking for is adequate compensation and a more fair process in eminent domain proceedings,” Boening told the committee. “This bill, SB 740, and other filed bills, helps to accomplish that.”

Landowners, however, continue to struggle with adequate compensation for the taking of private property. He noted that landowners often do not challenge a condemning entity’s final offer because of the high cost to do so.

“When these amounts are too low, a landowner’s choice is either to settle or be sued. Believe me, landowners want to avoid litigation,” Boening testified. “However, they are forced to hire an attorney and pay for an appraisal to negotiate for an amount that’s fair. There’s recourse for those who are not able to hire this attorney and defend themselves in court. We need these protections to give us fair compensation and incentivize fair offers right up front.”

Under the current law, landowners must pay attorney fees out of pocket, never allowing them to truly be made whole. Low initial offers from some condemning entities initiates a negotiation process where landowners have little leverage. If entities come back with low final offers, landowners are often discouraged from challenging due to what it might cost to hire professional help.

It’s a deck stacked against landowners, despite reforms made in previous years. But SB 740 creates an important disincentive to lowball offers and will help landowners receive more fair offers up front, Boening said.

The bill also outlines increased transparency between the condemning entity and the landowner. SB 740 would require certain project information and property rights protections in the deed or easement contract that is presented to the landowner.

Baseline property protections, Boening noted after the hearing, should be a given and not used as a bargaining chip in negotiations.

He echoed those sentiments in his testimony in support of HB 2684 at an April 12 hearing of the House Land and Resource Management Committee.

The bill, filed by Rep. DeWayne Burns (R-Cleburne), outlines requirements that would make eminent domain a more fair process for private property owners.

“We feel like there are too few checks and balances in place to ensure the eminent domain process is exercised appropriately,” Boening said. “We’ve heard it from our members before where landmen admitted they were authorized to make that initial offer ‘low enough.’ If that initial offer had not been so low, maybe that awarded offer would not seem so high.”

Texas landowners face a future of continued demand for their land. With many potential projects on the horizon, proponents of the bill are looking for a legislative fix.

“When offers are too low, the landowners’ only choice is to settle or be sued,” Boening said. “If you don’t have the money to hire an attorney, you settle. Those who hire an attorney and win, you’re still not going to be adequately compensated. You pay your attorney.”

HB 2684 would provide a disincentive for condemning entities to provide landowners with lowball offers, and therefore offering a fair market price up front.

“The condemnation process is not a willing buyer and a willing seller,” Boening said. “Landowners are often land rich and cash poor. It’s important that their land be thought of in its full value.”

Boening stressed to the committee that most landowners want to avoid litigation. To do so, the current process would need to be reformed.

HB 2684 also outlines that certain project information and property rights protections would be required in the deed or easement contract that entities present to landowners.

Those property protections would include repairing damages to land outside the easement area, locking and closing gates, as well as knowledge of how many pipelines and electric poles will go into the easement area.

Boening also testified in favor of HB 2694 authored by Rep. Kyle Kacal (R-Bryan) and HB 3687 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin).

The bills are also supported by the Texans for Property Rights Coalition, which is led by Texas Farm Bureau, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and the Texas Wildlife Association.

The coalition consists of 25 organizations committed to the preservation of Texas’ private property rights. The coalition was organized to pursue eminent domain reform during the 2017 Texas legislative session and will continue to work with legislators to secure the passage of these bills and others proposed in the House and Senate that address the need for reform.

Read the full article at http://texasagriculture.texasfarmbureau.org/article/Landowners+Seek+Eminent+Domain+Reform+/2765430/401730/article.html.

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