Published 12:23 pm Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Senate on Tuesday approved a measure that intends to expand on work from the 82nd session to protect land owners’ rights in the eminent domain process. Six years ago, the Legislature approved a sweeping eminent domain bill in the form of SB 18, which set requirements on land takings for the purpose of economic development, requiring condemners to act in good faith and set out what information must be presented to a land owner. The bill offered Tuesday by Brenham Senator Lois Kolkhorst is intended to make adjustments to the law after seeing what has and hasn’t worked. “This bill is designed to build off of Senate Bill 18 six years later as we’ve learned through the process that there are things that can be improved on,” she said.

The bill, SB 740, would require a taking entity, or condemner, to clearly inform a land owner that they have the right to speak with a representative of the condemner and a representative of the Attorney General’s Office, as well as consult with a licensed real estate broker.  An offer to purchase land for purposes of eminent domain must be given in monetary value. It must be at least 150 percent of the per-acre value as determined in the latest tax appraisal or one based on a certified appraisal that reflects the value of the property and includes the cost of potential damages to surrounding, non-taken property. The condemner would be prohibited from contacting a land owner for three days following the offer, to give them time to consider it.

Kolkhorst said that in talking to constituents, she learned that they had many complaints about the practices of people acting on behalf of a third party to gain property rights and access, known as right-of-way agents. Her bill seeks to improve interactions with right-of-way agents by requiring they be licensed real estate agents.   “Currently they are among the few people who negotiate real estate transactions without a license,” said Kolkhorst. It would also require them to take a 15-hour course on eminent domain, professionalism, negotiation, and ethics, with six hours of continuing education each year going forward.

The bill also contains provisions requiring disclosure for eminent domain takings for the purpose of running a pipeline. The taking entity would have to tell the land owner how deep a pipeline will be buried, how wide it will be, what the pipeline will be transporting, and the rights to recover damages done to surface crops and livestock. It would also require the entity to maintain liability insurance to cover possible damages and require it to lock and maintain gates on the property through which its personnel pass.   Kolkhorst said that the pipeline-related language is something that land owners have long needed and wanted. The bill now heads to the House for consideration.

The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, May 3 at 11 a.m.