Thursday, August 11, 2005

Kolkhorst amendment bans economic development projects to help finance a toll project.

House gives approval to property rights bill

Measure would curb government power of seizure

Austin Bureau
Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2005

AUSTIN - The Texas House passed a bill Wednesday limiting government's power to take private property for economic development, including wording aimed at planned toll road projects backed by Gov. Rick Perry.

The House version of the bill, which lawmakers said limits the use of eminent domain for commercial development along toll roads and other highways, overwhelmingly passed 140-1.

Sen. Kyle Janek, the Houston Republican who authored the bill, said he's likely to ask the Senate to concur with the House amendments. The governor would then need to sign the bill for it to become law.

"I think they're things that I could live with," Janek said of the House's changes. "There's nothing major that I think is a deal killer. The governor's office seems to be OK with it."

The legislation, added to the second special session by Perry on Tuesday, was drafted in response to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing eminent domain seizures for economic development projects.

Similar law in 13 states

If Perry signs the bill into law, Texas will join 13 other states that have further limited the use of government property seizures in response to the high court's decision.
The House bill, with compromise wording by Rep. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, says the Texas Department of Transportation cannot seize private property for commercial developments unless it gets local approval from county commissioners.

"My goal is to say the state of Texas should not have eminent domain power to build economic development projects — hotels, restaurants, convenience stores or any other commercial facilities," said Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, whose amendment bans the practice in order to help finance a toll project.

"I believe if we say to the cities and counties we shouldn't do that, we should say it to the state of Texas," she added.

Section targets universities

Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, added an amendment that prohibits the University of Texas at Austin from condemning a popular hamburger restaurant, Player's, to build a parking garage and hotel.
Janek had been critical of the amendment in the past because Oliveira's cousin owns the restaurant. The new wording applies to other universities as well, prohibiting them from using state-backed bonds to finance "lodging facilities" that are not dormitories.

The bill makes an exception for ports and includes an interim study to determine, among other things, how a government can fairly compensate a person who loses a home in an economically depressed neighborhoods.

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, offered an amendment requiring residents in a neighborhood to be notified if the government plans to seize land and change the character of their neighborhood.

The measure passed in response to a multi-level parking garage the Texas Medical Center is building in a neighborhood with a deed restriction allowing only single-family housing.

The Medical Center is able to build the parking garage directly adjacent to a homeowner's property because it has eminent domain powers, Coleman said.

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