State Sen. Glenn Hegar disagrees with critics who want governor to veto legislation
By ZEN T. C. ZHENG - Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle - June 14, 2007
Citing potential higher cost in condemning private property for road projects, Fort Bend leaders are pushing to kill a Texas House bill that would obligate governments to pay property owners for decreased access to their land resulting from eminent domain.
A resolution passed by [Fort Bend] Commissioners Court urges Gov. Rick Perry to veto House Bill 2006, which was sponsored by Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, and sent to Perry for his signature on May 29.
The bill, which was adopted by both the House and Senate last month, aims to reform an existing state law on eminent domain to further protect private-property rights by requiring a comprehensive set of factors — including "diminished access" — to be taken into consideration in the land-taking and compensation process.
Eminent domain, commonly known as condemnation, is the practice in which a government legally seizes private property for public use while paying the owner for the "fair market value" of the land.
Failure to reach an agreement between land owners and the government often leads to condemnation.
The notion of "fair market value" has been of much debate and propelled Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, to amend the House bill, which specifically obligates local or state government to compensate private land owners for "any diminished access" along state highways or toll road projects.
The amendment was Hegar's second effort to address the issue during the 80th Legislature after Senate Bill 1711, which he authored and was adopted by the Senate, died at the House.
"The current law doesn't take diminished access into account in considering the value of property. That's why I added the amendment to the bill," Hegar said. "If you lose a point of entrance to your property because a road is coming through, that affects the market value of the property."
In protesting the bill, county officials contend that often alternative "reasonable access" to the property remains while a normal access is eliminated because of condemnation and circumstances don't warrant compensation.
They also argue that "diminished access" is a subjective notion open to different interpretations, hence giving rise to potential dispute and litigation.
"The proposed changes in the bill to the government code, the local government code and the property code would result in significant cost increases for local government across the state of Texas," the resolution states.
Hegar dismissed the claim that the term "diminished access" is subjective.
He argued that land valuation can also be a subjective process, which often occurs when government entities resort to condemnation.
"What is the value of your property for the large part depends on the person who does the valuation on it," Hegar said.
Higher legal costs?
County Commissioner Andy Meyers said the bill would fatten the pockets of attorneys representing property owners. County Judge Bob Hebert agreed.
Hegar said if an alternative access remains as an equal access without causing problem for the property owner, then it would not be regarded as "diminished access" and would be a nonissue.
"It's no different than your house. If all the doors are boarded up except for your window, you can still come into the house crossing the window. You still have access to your house, but it's diminished," he said. "That's the problem the bill is trying to address."
Commissioner Tom Stavinoha said Hegar's effort was in response to requests from farmers groups, who Stavinoha said were not informed about the impact of the bill.
Hegar said he was approached by Texas Farm Bureau and Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, whose members are concerned about possible condemnation of their land by the state Trans-Texas Corridor project, which is on hold due to a two-year legislative moratorium.
"It's a very real issue, more so in rural areas, such as Fort Bend," Hegar said. "I'm a pro-property rights individual. And I don't understand why private property rights are such a bad thing."
In urging Perry to veto the bill, the county resolution states that the bill would have "detrimental financial impact on local governments trying to improve mobility within their communities."
Hegar said the claim is "not supported by facts."