Private Property Rights, the Foundation of America
AUSTIN - Should a governmental body have the ability to confiscate someone's private property and transfer that ownership to another private individual in the name of economic development? Several weeks ago the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision that said they could. I strongly disagree.
The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that "No person shall ... be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." That constitutional right has been the standard for centuries and has not changed, but as of last week the interpretation has.
The Supreme Court ruled that cities, counties, and other government bodies have the right to take someone's private land and give it to another private individual for economic development. In other words, if that land is expected to bring in more tax revenue, eminent domain is deemed permissible because it will benefit the general public and now falls under the new definition of public use. I find this outrageous.
The economic development argument will leave all private property subject to eminent domain and leave no property safe from government confiscation. The government can now justify any taking of property that potentially could generate more tax revenue under new stewardship. It is for that reason that I think federal and state legislators should ban economic development takings under almost all circumstances.
While I have and always will be a staunch supporter of economic development, I am an even greater proponent of property rights. The concept of property rights is what sets the United States apart from many other countries throughout the world. Property rights are a major component of the foundation that American society rests on and I intend to make sure that property owners in Texas are protected.
On Wednesday, July 6th, I voted for Senate Bill 62 in the Senate Committee on State Affairs. This bill will help ensure that private property owners are protected in Texas by preventing the taking of private property by a governmental entity for economic development purposes.
During the hearing, it was brought to my attention by a small business owner in Freeport, Texas, that the local economic development board has begun the process of taking his business and land under current eminent domain laws in order to transfer that land to a Dallas developer.
In this case, the economic development board is made up of appointed members, not elected. I find it hard to believe that this board which is not accountable to the public is able to confiscate private property and transfer it to another private individual under the guise of "public purpose."
As a result of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision and the hearings we have had on eminent domain in the Senate Committee on State Affairs, I have asked Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst to appoint an interim study, which I hope to head, to determine exactly which governmental bodies in Texas should have the powers of eminent domain and how those powers can be used.
We cannot allow one private individual the ability to use the power of the government to take another individual's private property. Having just celebrated the Fourth of July, I am reminded of all that was sacrificed to ensure private individuals have the right to private property. It is my intention to make sure their sacrifices are not in vain.
Senate Bill 62 passed out of the Senate Committee on State Affairs on Wednesday, July 6 by a vote of seven to zero and will be heard by the full Senate in the next week. Although the 30-day session was called to deal with school finance matters, Governor Perry added eminent domain to the call Friday, July 08, 2005
Troy Fraser was elected in 1996 to serve Senate District 24, a 21-county region that is located in the geographic center of Texas. Senator Fraser is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce, which handles the flow of legislation related to insurance, telecommunications, banking, securities and lending issues, and business licensing and regulation. He also serves on the following standing Senate committees: State Affairs, Natural Resources and Veterans Affairs & Military Installations.