Eminent domain bills look to back landowners in rural areas

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Two bills going through legislature over in Austin could change the way energy companies and land owners interact. 


Many people are reaping the benefits of the booming oil economy and some lawmakers want to make sure homeowners are not being stepped on. 


Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, and Rep. DeWayne Burns, R-Cleburne, filed legislation back in January to reform the current process of eminent domain. 


Senate Bill 321 and House Bill 991 look to focus on three areas where private companies want to exercise this power to seize private property.


Those areas are requiring a public meeting to ensure property owners understand the eminent domain process and ask questions, mandating minimum protections that must be present in a contract and holding condemners accountable if they offer landowners less compensation that they are owed for the property. 


BIG 2 / FOX 24 reached out to the Texas Farm Bureau. They told us this adjustment is necessary. 


“Eminent domain is not a choice. It’s not a normal business transaction, because the property owner can’t walk away from the table,” said Director of Communications Gene Hall. 


The TFB hopes this will create more transparency. 


“They will literally make billions of dollars transporting energy through these pipelines over these lines, so there’s not reason to expect they can not pay more,” said Hall. 


On the other side, Todd Staples, President of Texas Oil and Gas Association, says these bills would create more red tape, making it difficult to provide energy in the Permian Basin. 


“By in large, the industry is doing a great job of meeting the needs of property owners and the needs of growing Texas,” said Staples. 


Staples say these added steps would clog up the courts and create unnecessary regulations for an industry that provides more than 160,000 jobs. 


“Pipelines are the main method of transportation for natural gas and fuel and oil in Texas,” said Staples. 


However, Hall says these changes would improve communication between homeowners and companies. 


“It will be good for the landowners. It will be good for homeowners and the State of Texas. Once everyone understands what’s required, every one understands their right,” said Hall. 


SB 421 was passed by the Senate on April 4 and is now being received by the House. 


Meanwhile, HB 991 is still in the House being referred to the Land and Resource Management. 


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