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Death of Eminent Domain Bill and Other Legislative Maneuvers

Senate Bill 421, reforming how pipelines exercise the power of eminent domain to condemn right-of-way, died at the end of the Texas legislative session after Rep. Tom Craddick sought to make amendments opposed by its author, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst. Kolkhorst said Craddick “seized the legislation” from its house sponsor and severely weakened the bill. The bill would have prevented low first-time offers for easements, improved easement terms and set mandatory meetings with property owners to explain the eminent domain process.

“The language of the House version would have turned back the clock for landowners and greatly harmed them,” Kolkhorst said in a statement Sunday. “I cannot agree to the Craddick proposal, which would do the opposite of what we set to do: help level the playing field for landowners in the taking of their property.”

This is the third legislative session in which Kolkhorst’s efforts to reform eminent domain have failed. Kolkhorst said she isn’t giving up. “This issue will and must remain a top state legislative priority,” she said.

“The real victims in the process are the hardworking Texas property owners who remain saddled with an unfair eminent domain process that gives every advantage to condemners,” Robert McKnight Jr., president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, said in a media release.

Rep. Craddick sponsored HB 3372, an effort by the Texas Oil & Gas Association and ConocoPhillips to weaken royalty owners’ rights to collect royalties, after Conoco lost a case in the Texas Supreme Court, ConocoPhillips v. Koopmann.  The bill was successfully opposed by land and mineral owners and did not get out of the calendars committee. But Craddick in the last days of the session sought to resurrect HB 3372 by tacking it onto another bill, HB 3838, a bill sponsored by Rep. Bailes and supported by land and mineral owners, HB 3838 is intended to stop the fraudulent practice of “oil and gas royalty leases” (see my article) Craddick’s  effort did not succeed, and HB 3838 passed the House and has been sent to the Governor.

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