Governor Perry Signs Eminent Domain Reform Bill into Law

A five-year long fight to reform eminent domain laws in Texas and protect the rights of property-holders ended successfully on Monday when Governor Rick Perry signed SB 18 into law. The bill had been previously presented twice to legislature in Texas. In 2007, the bill was passed but subsequently vetoed, while in 2009 it passed the state House but stalled in the Senate.

The Bill contains three major components which are of particular interest to property-owners. First, it includes a comprehensive ban on the “public benefit” use of eminent domain, either directly or via a series of end-runs. This provision is effectively a legislative override to the decision Kelso v. New London, in which eminent domain powers were controversially expanded.

Second, SB 18 requires that owners of land that is subject to a proposed easement must be provided with a comprehensive assessment of the value of their property, and that these assessments can not be subject to confidentiality agreements. This provision means that the state government has to give property owners an honest and open appraisal of the value of their land before negotiating an agreement.

Finally, SB 18 requires that any government which is considering invoking eminent domain powers must make a bona fide offer to the owner of the property to sell the property voluntarily. This offer must include a 30-day decision period and must be of equal to or greater than the value in the assessment.
Overall, these three provisions have the effect of limiting eminent domain powers to their originally intended public use, and improve the negotiating position and information available.

The Bill was passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support in the House and Senate. Governor Perry had designated SB 18 as an “Emergency” piece of legislation, in order to encourage expedited passage.

While most property rights activists and legislators were pleased with this development, some believed that the bill could have done more: "I wish it was a little bit stronger for the property rights… but it’s always a delicate balancing it’s weighing the interest of the public good and private property," said State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte.

The Property Rights Alliance has consistently supported Eminent Domain reforms and hopes and expects that this bill will provide a model for similar legislation in other states.