Texas Urged to Limit Eminent Domain

Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Friday called on the legislature to curb the state’s power to seize land through eminent domain, reacting swiftly to a recent Supreme Court decision that hurt property owners’ rights.

The Texas governor called for “limiting the use of eminent domain to take private property for private parties or economic development purposes.” He also urged the legislature to support amending the Texas constitution to shore up Texans’ rights to own property.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling would allow the government to condemn your family’s home, bulldoze it and build a new shopping mall or some other kind of economic development project simply to generate more tax revenue,” the Republican governor said in a statement.

Last month the governor, aiming to reform school funding, called the legislature back for a special session.

Even before the nation’s top court ruled a city can take a home or business that stands in the way of a development project, two states enacted laws to restrict this use of eminent domain, according to Larry Morandi, a director with the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures.

Utah and Nevada this year approved the measures before the Supreme Court on June 23 decided that New London, Connecticut, could take 15 properties for a project that would complement a nearby research facility by the Pfizer Inc. drug company.

Only about 10 state legislatures are still in session and could consider ways to protect property owners this year, Morandi said. But he looks for a burst of new bills in January, when about 44 legislatures will return and have a chance to address the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling.

The states likely will take one of two approaches: adopting outright bans on using eminent domain to restore blighted areas, or setting tougher standards for determining whether an area is so downtrodden the state should step in and restore it, Morandi said. The second strategy could also include enacting stiffer laws requiring a state to negotiate with property owners before taking their properties, he added.

Utah came close to banning the state from taking land for economic development, while Nevada adopted somewhat less strict curbs, Morandi said.