Texas Farm Bureau President Kenneth Dierschke challenged Farm Bureau members to join him in a year-long effort to achieve "meaningful reform" of Texas eminent domain laws during his annual address to delegates at the Texas Farm Bureau's 74th annual convention.
Dierschke, a grain and cotton farmer from San Angelo, said the blueprint for a new bill would be House Bill 2006, which overwhelmingly passed both houses of the Legislature in this year's session, only to be vetoed by Governor Rick Perry.
"I've heard from Farm Bureau members and others about it over and over again for the past six months," Dierschke said. "It has been a point of emphasis, disgust and disappointment."
Dierschke said agricultural groups like Farm Bureau and angry property owners all over the state would consolidate support for eminent domain reform during 2008. Their goal is to pass a strong bill in the Legislature early in the session, leaving enough time to override the governor's expected veto.
Dierschke told his Farm Bureau audience that eminent domain, the taking of private property for public projects, "has become far too easy in this state." House Bill 2006 would have corrected what farmers and ranchers view as glaring problems with eminent domain law.
Currently, an eminent domain taking does not require a good faith offer, which can leave property owners with expensive court challenges if they are not satisfied with their offer. Also, there is no provision for compensation due to diminished access, the loss of value on remaining property when only some of it is taken.
"The governor's veto tells us that he does not believe that property owners should be fairly compensated when their property is taken by eminent domain," the Farm Bureau leader said. "Property owners must be treated fairly when property has to be taken."
Dierschke said the expected growth in state population means that takings of private property will occur more frequently, lending a sense of urgency to eminent domain reform. He also said that eminent domain is not only a rural issue. Urban and suburban Texans are affected, too.
Plans to build the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC), the multi-billion dollar highway system advocated by Governor Perry, would require the taking of millions of private acres.
Dierschke emphasized that Texas Farm Bureau remains opposed to the widely criticized TTC.
"A funny thing has happened on the way to building this boondoggle," Dierschke said. "The more people - including some in the Legislature - learn about it, the more opposition it faces. We intend to continue turning over all the rocks to see what crawls out."
Dierschke expressed optimism that a federal farm program that preserves the farm safety net and national food security will be passed before year's end. The Texas Farm Bureau supports a bill similar to the current legislation, in effect since 2002.
As president of Texas' largest farm organization, Dierschke said that the state's farm and ranch families would work with the leaders of urban Texas to alleviate the challenges of the state's exploding population. However, he said the property rights of all Texans must be respected.