Legislation passed in 2003 prevented governmental entities, particularly county sheriffs who had seizure funds, from compensating property owners for damages that occurred on their properties as a result of law enforcement actions. STPRA has sought to remedy this situation, allowing property owners to be fairly compensated in these instances.
FIRST ATTEMPT AT NEW LEGISLATION
In the 2009 legislative session, State Representative Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles authored a bill to allow compensation for property owners. The bill, which was passed into law, states that, “A county law enforcement agency may use funds received from the sale of a motor vehicle abandoned as a result of a vehicular pursuit involving the law enforcement agency… to compensate property owners whose property was damaged as a result of the pursuit.” The bill also states that compensation may not exceed:
- The net proceeds of the sale of the vehicle
- $1,000 per property if more than one property was damaged
- The amount of the property owner’s deductible in his or her insurance policy
The bill also states that the sheriff or constable must submit the proposed payment to the Commissioners Court for its consideration and approval at the next regularly scheduled meeting.
ADDITIONAL LEGISLATION AND FUTURE ACTION
STPRA was instrumental in passing House Bill (HB) 3422 (the landowner compensation bill) last legislative session. HB 3422 amended the Transportation Code to broaden allowable compensation to property owners for damages by any law enforcement agency. The agencies are now permitted to use excess funds from the sale of an abandoned motor vehicle, watercraft, or outboard motor transferred to a municipality’s or county’s general revenue fund, and to remove the limitations on the amount of the compensation payment. Unfortunately, HB 3422 only amended Section 683.015 (f) of the Transportation Code regarding auction proceeds of “abandoned” vehicles. Because many of these vehicles are now being classified as “seized” vehicles, STPRA is working with the Texas Farm Bureau, district attorneys, county sheriffs, and other stakeholders to investigate other options for landowner compensation and recourse for private property damage in bailout situations. We participated in passing H.B. 1931 by Rep. Ryan Guillen this last legislative session which allows District Attorney’s to use their seizure funds to compensate landowners.
STPRA will monitor the implementation of H.B. 1931 to see if any future tweaking will be necessary to ensure its benefits to landowners. We will also investigate the possible use of federal government subsidized landowner insurance to compensate landowners in areas where damages occur.
On behalf of STPRA, Congressmen Henry Cuellar and Michael McCaul have written a joint letter requesting that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct a review of federal government efforts to identify and address property damage to private lands and infrastructure that occurs along the United States Mexico border, as a result of illegal immigration and contraband smuggling.