The Senate Committee on State Affairs met on March 11 to take up and consider bills. This report focuses on eminent domain bills SB 552, SB 553, SB 554, and SB 421

This report is intended to give you an overview and highlight of the discussions on the various topics the committee took up. It is not a verbatim transcript of the hearing, but is based upon what was audible or understandable to the observer and the desire to get details out as quickly as possible with few errors or omissions.


Sen. Schwertner – SB 552

  • The bill is a refile of committee sub. of SB 627 from last session
  • The bill strengthens private property rights by empowering property owners with more information about the existing rights of landowners and those wishing to survey their land
  • Many private landowners facing condemnation are unfamiliar with the full scope of their property rights
  • Misunderstandings can lead to suboptimal outcomes for these landowners
  • The bill will provide further information on the landowner’s rights during a survey
  • The intent is for all parties to better understand their rights and obligations so that they may make decisions together
  • Nelson – Is the condemning entity required to provide the landowner Bill of Rights to the landowner when they request permission to survey?
    • They do have to provide the landowner’s Bill of Rights, but I’m not sure on the timing regarding when they need to do it
  • Birdwell – Does the bill imply or specify condemning authority to those pursuing high-speed rail?
    • It does not


Alvin Kaddatz – himself

  • Support the bill
  • Request insurance payment from others before they come on the property
  • Request payment for any damage done to property
  • Concerned about elderly landowners who may be taken advantage of


Julia Rathgeber – Association of Electric Companies in Texas

  • Against the bill
  • Bill does not consider timing of PUC process that routes utility lines
  • The process involves multiple options for routes that involve knowledge of the landowner’s process as well as contact with landowner before process begins
  • Current law recognizes the need for this knowledge and interaction
  • The language is confusing in regards to which damages go into an easement provision


Eric Opiela – South Texans’ Property Rights Association

  • Support the bill
  • Recognize the PUC’s need for a routing process
  • The bill would do a lot towards resolving disputes surrounding the surveys that are done
  • By keeping landowners fully informed on their rights, negotiations with a representative of the condemnation will be more likely to be handled upfront rather than in a courtroom


Ben Stephens – Husch Blackwell in Harris County

  • Against the bill as filed
  • County currently gets landowner permission to conduct surveys with little issue
  • This bill would make such agreements less common and bottleneck the overall process
  • Would also require a landowner to attend court twice, first to contest the order of entry, and then later for the condemnation itself
  • Getting an accurate survey early on is important to the process, especially in the event of potential need for re-route
  • Survey is important part of getting the landowner just compensation
  • Landowners know their property better than anyone else, and the appraiser needs a survey to know if their easements may block the project
  • Incomplete information equates less success in negotiations and more lawsuits


Sen. Schwertner – SB 553

  • Bill is a refile of committee sub. SB 626 from last session
  • Bill strengthens private property rights by providing landowners with information of offers on their land by condemning authorities
  • Eminent domain provides growing pains to overpopulated areas
  • Landowners may not be aware of all of their legal rights during the condemnation process
  • Under current case law, a condemning entity is not required to tell a landowner whether they’re offer to acquire property includes more land than the entity has the authority to take
  • The bill is meant to help landowners understand restrictions on condemners on what parcels of land they can take through eminent domain
  • Bill requires condemners to make two separate offers; one for land they can take through eminent domain, and one for land they cannot take through eminent domain
  • Committee sub. clarifies that the bill will not apply to TxDOT for development of highways


Alvin Kaddatz – himself

  • Support the bill
  • Concerned about condemners using private property areas for personal use without purchasing easement or paying the landowner
  • Concerned about establishing above-ground features such as fences without compensation


Julia Rathgeber – Electric Companies of Texas

  • Against the bill
  • Electric companies believe the current landowner Bill of Rights already addresses the concerns raised
  • A condemner’s eminent domain powers are already limited to property that is reasonably necessary to complete a project
  • We believe it would be less confusing to maintain current process of eminent domain


SB 553 is left pending


Sen. Schwertner – SB 554

  • This bill is a refile of SB 628
  • Bill strengthens private property rights by raising the bar for how an authority makes actual progress on the property is condemned
  • Previous legislature allowed a private property landowner to repurchase a property acquired through eminent domain if the authority did not make actual progress towards its stated public use of the land within ten years of initial condemnation
  • Current law makes it easy for a governmental entity to demonstrate actual progress; the threshold is unnecessarily broad and does not guarantee actual progress
  • The bill requires the completion three of five actions to show progress as opposed to two of seven actions
  • One exception exists; given the unique needs of ports, the bill affords port authorities with flexibility in demonstrating actual progress
  • Committee sub. incorporates concerns brought up by AACT regarding the actions needed to prove actual progress


Ben Stephens – Harris County

  • Against the bill
  • The bill would severely limit planning horizon for infrastructure projects
  • Sometimes projects are delayed due to factors beyond our control
  • Flexibility in showing actual progress is important to our ability to plan for long-term


Bill has an indeterminate fiscal note

SB 554 left pending


Sen. Kolkhorst – SB 421

  • Bill was originally laid out a week ago
  • Bill still establishes minimum easement terms in order to protect landowners
  • Bill requires condemners hold public meetings; instead of having the courts organize said meetings, they will be renamed Property Owner Information meetings
  • The substitute requires a condemner to hold a public meeting within 30 days of submitting a notice to the court that they intend to condemn
  • Original form of the bill had a penalty at the end of negotiations; the substitute strikes this penalty, and replaces it with a sale premium of 145% of market value of the property
  • Committee sub. gives minimum standards by which we will progress and have for-profit utilities come through private properties
  • Committee sub. adopted


CSSB 421 is moved to be recommended to the full Senate to be passed and printed

CSSB 421 passed 8-0