Texas must continue to protect landowner rights
Texas is a state founded on the principles of landowner rights. Like any rights, however, they must be properly guard. In 2005, Kelo v. New London, opened the door for government to force landowners to sell their property for non-essential purposes like economic development.
In an effort to further protect the private property rights our state was founded on, Texas Legislators have made great strides in protecting landowners since the Kelo decision. For example, we banned the taking of land for non-public uses such as private economic development. We also established a method for landowners to sometimes buy back land at the price paid by the government if the property is not used for the intended public purpose after ten years. The Legislature has also required that landowners be compensated not only for the taking of land but also for diminished access or ability to use that land.
In Senate District 3, we are experiencing a great deal of oil, gas and pipeline activity. Leasing agents employed by pipeline companies often approach property owners to negotiate the lease or purchase of pipeline right-of-way. Although some represent companies with the authority to buy the land using eminent domain, that does not mean your private property rights are invalid. The Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) licenses these leasing agents, and it might be a good idea to call them or check online to ensure the agent with whom you are negotiating possess a valid license. Last session, I authored and passed legislation requiring independent right-of-way agents to pass a criminal background check in order to be licensed. If you find you are dealing with an agent who is unlicensed or whose actions seem unethical, you can file a complaint with TREC.
If you find that your land will be affected by a pipeline, ask the company to compensate you for any damage to hay and timber. If the proposed route cuts through the middle of your tract of land, diminishing its agricultural and market value, ask that it be moved nearer to a property line. And remember, you always have the right to hire an attorney or consultant to represent you in any negotiation with a pipeline company.
Sometimes knowledge of your rights is the best way to defend them. That is why I sponsored and helped pass the Landowners Bill of Rights in 2009. The legislation ensures landowners facing eminent domain receive an explanation of their rights in plain, easy-to-read language. You can find a copy of the Landowner Bill of Rights on the Attorney General's Web page at: https://www.oag.state.tx.us/agency/landowners.shtml.
Texas courts have also stood up for property owners. They have ruled landowners whose land is to be taken must not only be compensated for the property loss, but the value of the property may be determined based on the highest and best use of it. For example, if the land has potential for commercial use, the courts can take that into consideration when determining the amount a landowner is due, even if commercial use would make the land much more valuable than another designation.
While Texas is a national leader in the defense of property rights, there is always more work to do. I will continue to push for legislation that forbids the use of eminent domain for recreation projects like parks or bike trails. No one should lose their home just so others can have a place to play. As Texas citizens, we must stay vigilant in the protection of private property rights. Our state was literally built on this principle.