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Bills Would Reaffirm 'Just Compensation' Right of Landowners in Texas

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX –

Legislation affirming Texans' constitutional right to be paid for land that has been devalued or rendered unable to be developed due to environmental regulations was announced at a press conference today featuring Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, who as a former Texas House member is the author of the original Texas property owners "bill of rights" to protect landowner rights abuses by governments.

The legislation, SB 1647 by Sen. Todd Staples (R-Palestine) and HB 2833 by Rep. Robby Cook (D-Eagle Lake), closes loopholes and asks for the reaffirmation of landowners' "just compensation" rights.

Charlotte Warren of the Texas Landowners Conservancy (TLC) said the group seeks to protect its rights "as property owners," citing how onerous government regulations have "severely devalued our property." She said the group has witnessed land devaluations in Austin and its Extraterritorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) because of the Water Quality Initiative and is now seeing the same extended to other areas of Travis and other counties. She said when environmental regulations devalue landowners' private property, "They are certainly not compensating property owners for the losses." While the TLC supports environmental protection, said Warren, it is unfair to ask landowners to "bear 100 percent of the cost."

TLC members, said Warren, are interested in protecting their property. "It's not right for anyone, the government included, to take our property from us."

Combs said that the courts have held that public property can be taken to protect the private good, but "you've got to pay for it." She said in eminent domain cases, "you get compensated for the loss of your property."

Staples called what is happening to Texas property owners in the name of the environment "a 21st Century land grab." He said property owners like other Texans have strong community values, and "hold dear" protection of the environment. However, he said government should "do what is right" for private property owners who also have invested in Texas. He said the legislation does not restrict a governmental body from passing ordinances, but prescribes that if government "takes your land, it should pay the owner for it."

Cook said what government does to private property owners would be no different than government coming in and taking away 90 percent of one's 401(k) retirement plan "in the name of public good, in the name of good government."

While water quality is important, said Cook, this legislation addresses "fairness and balance" and the needs of landowners who "were good stewards of the land long before it was popular."

This issue is not necessarily a water issue, said Warren, but more of a property rights issue. "It's a no-growth issue more than a water issue," said the TLC representative.

Staples said that while he supports good public policy that protects water and air quality, if a government entity limits the use of private property, it needs to pay the landowners for that loss. "It's a simple concept of no taking without compensation," he said.

It is never that the public good should not be maintained, closed Combs. The question rather is who pays for the public good. She asked if one landowner should pay for 22 million people in the state. "No," she said. "If the public benefits and shares in that, one person should not bear the entire weight of the public good."