Proposition 11 Could Add Teeth to Current Eminent Domain Laws

Private property rights could get a big boost in Texas if voters approve a proposition that would add teeth to the state's current eminent domain laws. Proposition 11 amends the state constitution to include rules that limit the government's ability to condemn private property and then turn it over to private developers. Jack Williams reports.

"Now we're making our own law about eminent domain when it comes to aiding in commercial development."

Houston State Representative Garnet Coleman says the proposition is the state's response to a Supreme Court ruling a few years ago that sided with a local government in an eminent domain fight. The Court ruled though that states could set their own rules concerning eminent domain. 

"People do not want the government to aid in commercial development with their dollars and the use of eminent domain. In my opinion this will help that. I think we need a statute though that is more detailed than the constitutional amendment."

The idea got nearly unanimous support in the state legislature earlier this year. It would strengthen what the Texas Farm Bureau's Gene Hall calls some of the weakest eminent domain laws around.

"Unfortunately, even after we pass Proposition 11, we're still going to have one of the worst eminent domain laws in the country. Proposition 11 is the beginning of eminent domain reform. We've had a long and kind of tortured process with this. We're not going to fix everything with Proposition 11, but Proposition 11 is, by itself, an important thing to do. We will have another bite at this apple. We will get another opportunity to fix what's wrong with Texas eminent domain reform."    

But not everyone agrees that Proposition 11 is the answer to eminent domain reform in Texas. Terri Hall is the director of Texans Uniting For Reform and Freedom. She says Proposition 11 leaves huge loopholes and isn't the real answer to the issue.

"What we fear is going to happen, even if we are the lone voice in the wilderness because all these other folks seem happy to take crumbs instead of get real reform and to just be able to claim some kind of political victory by passing eminent domain reform when it's really not that. We fear the legislature is never going to go back and actually
fix these other problems. They're going to say, we already took care of that. The voters already voted on it and we're moving on. And that's why we feel it's so important to vote this down and insist on strong, true, genuine eminent domain reform."   

She says Proposition 11 does nothing to address the issue of diminished access to property after it's been seized and fair market price for property. Governor Rick Perry and his challenger, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, support Proposition 11. 

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...