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No significant fiscal implication anticipated to the State.
Because the bill would not have statewide impact on units of local
government of the same type or class, no comment from this office is
required by the rules of the House/Senate as to its probable fiscal
implication on units of local government.
21.013, Property Code, requires that “a party initiating a condemnation
proceeding in a county in which there is one or more county courts at law with
jurisdiction shall file the petition with any clerk authorized to handle such
filings for that court or courts.” This means that in most instances, in
counties all across Texas eminent domain suits are filed in county courts of
law. H.B. 2536 would change this only for eminent domain lawsuits in Harris
County. This legislation would allow—though not require—a condemnor to file
“a petition with the district [court] clerk when the amount in controversy
exceeds” $200,000. In other words, under HB 2536 condemnors at their discretion
would be able to move condemnation cases from county courts at law to district
05/18/2015 We oppose HB 2536 in the second chamber. The second chamber sponsor is Senator Whitmire. The second chamber cosponsors are Senator Huffman and Senator Nichols.
Few legitimate government actions are more invasive to the rights
of citizens than eminent domain, so it is imperative that the process be
focused on protecting property rights, this most basic of all human rights.
County courts of law in Texas have had exclusive access for eminent domain
proceedings for decades in counties that have county courts of law. This has
allowed county courts at law to develop the expertise and the resources to
fairly adjudicate disputes over the exercise of eminent domain by governments
and private entities. In Harris County, these cases are handled by the county
courts at law in a timely fashion with no backlogs or unnecessary delays. There
are no significant issues that need to be addressed that would support the
passage of HB 2536.
However, the change made by HB 2536 presents some potential due
process challenges that could inhibit individual liberty and negatively affect
private property rights. By giving condemnors the exclusive right to determine
which venue a case over $200,000 is filed in, either county courts at law or
district courts, it allows condemnors to engage in forum shopping in which they
can seek the court most beneficial to their case. Texas has a long history of
passing legislation to eliminate plaintiffs from seeking advantages through
forum shopping. Absent any compelling reason for allowing districts courts to
hear eminent domain cases, now is not the time to reverse direction on this
issue. Similarly, granting the ability to choose the venue exclusively to the
plaintiff condemnors with no ability by property owners to challenge also puts
property owners at a disadvantage in ensuring due process and protecting
their private property.
Because this legislation would violate our private property and individual liberty principles, we oppose HB 2536.