Fate of True Eminent Domain Reform Now in Hands of Texas Senate After House Passes Strong Constitutional Amendment 144-0

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · May 7, 2009

Austin, Tx.—In an overwhelming show of support for Texas property owners, the Texas House of Representatives unanimously passed a constitutional amendment late last night that would give Texas voters a chance to incorporate some of the strongest property rights protections in the nation into their Bill of Rights in November.  House Joint Resolution 14, by Frank Corte of San Antonio, passed the House around midnight by a vote of 144-0.

HJR 14 has emerged as the frontrunner from a handful of eminent domain amendments that were introduced earlier this session because it clearly targets the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Kelo v. City of New London, which found that the phrase “public use” in the U.S. Constitution really means “public benefit.”  Under Kelo, a government is free to take your home or business and give it to anyone who might create more jobs or pay more taxes with your land than you do.  HJR 14 fixes Kelo in Texas by making it clear that “public use” means a use of the property by the government, the condemning authority or the public at large.

“The Texas Senate is now the only thing standing between this vital constitutional amendment and Texas voters in November,” said Matt Miller, executive director of the Texas Chapter of the Institute for Justice.  “The House just sent a powerful and unanimous message about the importance of HJR 14 for Texas property rights.  We trust that the Senate will get the message, and will step up and do the right thing for Texas home and business owners.”

One potential stumbling block is the fact that HJR 14 will likely be assigned to a Senate committee controlled by Sen. Robert Duncan (Lubbock).  So far this session, Duncan has proven unwilling to allow strong eminent domain reform to pass through his committee.  Duncan’s own much weaker constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 42, passed the Senate 31-0 yesterday.

“If I were a city that wanted to condemn land for private development, I would be very happy with SJR 42, but if I were a small business or a homeowner that wanted to protect what was rightfully mine from abusive takings, SJR 42 would leave me very worried,” said Miller.  “SJR 42 merely forces cities to be more creative in how they package these eminent domain deals for private gain.  SJR 42 will not end Texas’s Kelo problem.  Only HJR 14 can do that.”

Sen. Duncan also oversaw negotiations that stripped strong public use language from Senate Bill 18, the statutory eminent domain bill that is now pending in the House.

“We hope Senator Duncan will allow the Senate to consider HJR 14,” said Miller.  “The House passed HJR 14 unanimously.  The proposal deserves to see the light of day on the other side of the Capitol.”

If the Senate passes HJR 14 by a two-thirds majority, it will head to voters in November.