Among the legislation passed by the Texas legislature this year is SB 1812 (Kolhorst, R-Brenham). At face value, the bill appears technical, but it takes a huge step to improve the transparency and reporting of the use of eminent domain.
Under previous law, entities with eminent domain authority were required to file a one-time registration with the comptroller of public accounts. The new law requires ongoing annual registration that includes not just basic identification points like the name and type of entity and the legislation from which it derives its eminent domain authority—but also requires a statement of whether that authority was exercised in the previous calendar year. In addition, the reporting is to be done electronically and gathered into a system that is searchable and intuitive to users.
The one-time registration requirement was part SB 18, passed in 2011 as a response to the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London. The Kelo decision allowed for the use of eminent domain to further economic development purposes, rather than reserving it specifically for public use. SB 18 was a major overhaul of the state’s eminent domain law and was intended to limit the effects of Kelo. It included a number of provisions, with highlights including requiring that property be condemned only for public use, requiring that roads be allowed over pipeline easements, specifying public notice and hearing requirements and voting mandates for government entities, spelling out the details of acquisition offers, and more.
In the SB 1812 statement of intent, the author said, “The [previous] legislation captured a snapshot of the eminent domain authority landscape in Texas. However, without continuous registration, current law only provides a limited view of how many entities in Texas possess eminent domain authority.”
(For information on additional bills passed by Texas—and other states—this year, see “2015 Legislative Review,” JOW June 2015).
Written by Marta L. Weismann