Wednesday, August 17, 2005

"There was no reason to talk any longer."

Eminent domain bill headed to Perry

Houston lawmaker's filibuster fizzles.

By Mike Ward
Copyright 2005

A high-profile measure designed to prohibit governments from seizing private property for commercial development is on its way to Gov. Rick Perry, who will probably sign it.

The Senate's 17-6 vote came after Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, spoke against the legislation for two hours in the late morning. It was billed as a mini-filibuster but turned out to be more like an early lunch break for most senators.

Gallegos gave up about 12:30 p.m., after a speech in which he said "eminent domain" 1,043 times, according to Senate doorkeeper Sheldon Massenburg, who counted.

Gallegos said he was worried that the measure, Senate Bill 7, would hurt public colleges and universities.

A provision added to the measure by the House last week prevents universities from using eminent domain to acquire land for lodging facilities, parking or a parking structure to be used in connection with a lodging facility. The provision, though aimed at the University of Texas, which is trying to acquire the land occupied by Player's restaurant, would apply statewide.

Gallegos said he quit Tuesday because Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst would not recognize a point of order noting that a quorum was not present, a move that would have killed the legislation.

"There was no reason to talk any longer," he said.

The eminent domain measure, by Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, was triggered by a June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that allowed city officials in New London, Conn., to condemn and take a widow's home for a commercial development.

The case quickly became a hot-button issue across the country for property rights advocates, who insisted that eminent domain lawsuits should not be used for private development.

Lawmakers moved quickly in the first special session in June, then again in the current special session, to prohibit such suits in the future.

Under the bill, governmental entities would be prohibited from condemning private property for economic development projects. Exceptions were carefully written in for public-use projects such as roads, parks, libraries, auditoriums, ports and utility work.

Also exempt would be the construction of a new Dallas Cowboys stadium in Arlington and an urban renewal project involving an empty downtown Dallas high-rise.

After Tuesday's final vote, Dewhurst announced that he plans to appoint an interim Senate committee to study whether further action is needed.

"This is going to address a more liberal leaning of the Supreme Court," Dewhurst said. "It is an important step."

Kenneth Dierschke, president of the Texas Farm Bureau, a group that lobbied hard for the change in state law, applauded Tuesday's vote but said his group will be back in 2007, pushing lawmakers to let voters put the same prohibition against property seizures into the Texas Constitution.

Perry hailed the legislation.

"This bill provides common-sense protection for every private property owner, and I will continue to work with members of the Legislature to add further protections in the state constitution," he said in a statement.; 445-1712

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