Hegar calls for Real Eminent Domain Reform
State Senator says Addressing Diminished Access is Key to True Private Property Protections in Texas
(AUSTIN, TEXAS) — Today, Texas State Senator Glenn Hegar called on Governor Rick Perry and his legislative colleagues to support “real” private property rights reform during the 81st Texas Legislative session by making sure that diminished access is fully addressed in any eminent domain reform legislation.
Hegar made his comments after Governor Perry held a press conference aimed at assuring Texans that steps were being taken to protect their private property rights. At that press conference, and later in his State of the State address to the Texas Legislature, Governor Perry announced his support for identical bills filed by State Representative Rob Orr (R, Burleson) and State Senator Robert Duncan (R, Lubbock) that aim to strengthen private property rights in Texas. However, neither bill includes provisions designed to ensure that Texans retain full access to their property in the event a portion of it is taken as a result of eminent domain actions by state or local governments.
Hegar said that while he fully supports any measures designed to protect private property rights and commends his colleagues' work, he remains adamant that true eminent domain reform will only be accomplished when the law entitles landowners to maintain full access to their property or be fully compensated for the loss of such access.
Today, Senator Hegar today filed Senate Bill 662, which would ensure that Texans who have a portion of their property taken by eminent domain retain access to their remaining property and any adjoining portions of the state highway system.
In making his announcement, Senator Hegar noted Governor Perry’s recent comments about protecting Texans' private property rights. Governor Perry said “the government owes landowners a genuine, good faith negotiation, not a land grab." He also said "government shouldn’t use eminent domain to take someone's land without making a fair offer for that property.” Hegar said that while he fully supports the Governor's sentiments about eminent domain, his statements don’t go far enough in assuring Texans they will be fully compensated should the state restrict access to their property as a result of an eminent domain proceeding.
“While no one can disagree with Governor Perry’s statements, they simply don’t go far enough,” Hegar said. “Does a "genuine, good faith negotiation" mean that a landowner will retain access to his property? Does a "fair offer" preserve connectivity of the full property?,” Hegar continued.
Hegar said that he believes most Texans agree that a landowner who has a portion of his property forcibly taken via eminent domain should have the right to maintain access to their full property. He said that any discussion of Texas' laws concerning eminent domain is incomplete without addressing diminished access.
"Current state law leaves a gaping hole by failing to ensure that landowners retain access to their remaining property and major roadways following eminent domain proceedings,” Senator Hegar noted. "I am steadfastly committed to seeing that hole filled and will I work tirelessly to see Senate Bill 662 passed, because this issue speaks to ‘true’ private property rights for Texans and is a matter of simple fairness," he added.
As currently written, Texas statutes are silent on the issue of diminished access. Senator Hegar addressed this issue during the last legislative session through an amendment to House Bill 2006, a comprehensive private property rights bill that was passed by both the Texas House and Senate, but was later vetoed by Governor Perry who cited Senator Hegar's amendment as the reason for the veto. In his veto proclamation, the Governor claimed that compensating Texans for diminished access would cost the state billions.
Senator Hegar said that although the provisions included in HB 2006 may have resulted in increased compensation costs, such an increase only underscores the fact that property owners are not currently being adequately compensated. Hegar contends that his support for the measure would hold fast regardless of the cost to the state because of his firm belief that landowners should always be entitled to access their property or, in those very rare situations when it is not possible, should be compensated for their loss.
Hegar noted that prior to a 1993 Texas Supreme Court decision, the State of Texas did indeed compensate landowners for their full loss in eminent domain condemnations, including any diminished access. "That policy did not bankrupt the state prior to 1993, and I have seen no evidence that to readopt this basic and fair principle would imperil our state's finances," said Senator Hegar.
Hegar said that his legislation, Senate Bill 662, would ensure that in cases in which condemnation of a portion of a landowner's property results in diminished access to the remaining property or adjacent state highway, the landowner would regain equal access to the property or be fairly compensated.
Senator Hegar illustrated the problem, saying "Imagine a rectangular piece of land accessible from both the north and south. Now imagine that a condemnation proceeding resulted in the loss of one of those entryways. In the case of a 4 mile strip of land such a loss might not be significant, but in the case of a 40 mile strip, that loss would be of great significance, resulting in greatly diminished access and a greatly diminished property value."
Hegar said unfortunately, and due solely to the veto of last session's House Bill 2006, neither equal access nor damages are available today in Texas. He said that he intends to pass his bill in both the House and Senate and send it to the Governor's desk again for his consideration.
"I hope Governor Perry really means what he says about protecting the private property rights of Texans and that he will join me in ensuring that such protection includes providing landowners with full access to their property or being fairly compensated for their loss," said Senator Hegar. "I look forward to working with Governor Perry and my colleagues to ensure that protecting private property rights is more than just campaign rhetoric, and instead, becomes the guiding principle in the way the State of Texas conducts itself in eminent domain proceedings," he concluded.
Senator Hegar served two terms in the Texas House of Representatives and now represents Senate District 18 in the Texas Senate. Senator Hegar is a sixth generation Texan, and earns a living farming rice and corn on land that has been in his family since the mid 1800's. He currently resides in Katy, Texas with his wife Dara, and their three children, Claire, Julia, and Jonah.