Tuesday, October 25, 2005

"We're still wide open for them to go in and take our land."

Perry signs property rights law

October 25, 2005

By B.J. Pollock Tuesday,
Fort Bend Herald
and Texas Coaster
Copyright 2005

Gov. Rick Perry's ceremonial signing of the eminent domain bill Monday in Waco didn't get a positive reaction from his rival for his 2006 reelection, Republican Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, or from Richmond resident and private property rights activist Jack Myska.

Strayhorn accused Perry of grandstanding and said the bill is filled with loopholes, and Myska concurred.

"I agree with her wholeheartedly," Myska said Tuesday morning, adding he has not yet read the bill thoroughly.

Perry officially signed the law into effect on Sept. 1, but the ceremonial signing was postponed due to hurricanes Rita and Katrina. He said Monday the bill will ‘‘close a door the Supreme Court jarred open.''

But Myska said, "That's not what we need. We need a constitutional amendment. If 51 percent of the Legislature voted to give Wal-Mart or one of the other big-box stores an exception, they can do it.

Rep. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, however, told the Fort Bend Herald Tuesday morning the chances of 51 percent of the Legislature approving such a request are slim, and the bill passed by the Legislature in August's special session is a "quick step" that ensures private property owners' rights while a committee is studying the matter further.

Hegar said when the special session first began, he wanted a constitutional amendment regarding the eminent domain issue, but soon realized it would take quite some time to make certain the amendment would address all necessary matters. He said numerous entities such as the Texas Municipal League, counties, sports authorities, hospital districts and the like "all wanted exceptions."

"We even had the universities coming in," he said, adding he quickly realized "there was a lot of need to truly go through and try to figure out specifically what to do."

"So how do you come up with a constitutional amendment immediately in the Legislature and not have unintentional consequences?" Hegar asked rhetorically, explaining once a constitutional amendment is passed, it would be difficult to change. "You want to make sure what you're putting in is the right thing."

But Myska said the bill "still leaves us vulnerable," which 'is really disturbing to me."

"There are lots and lots of questions unanswered," he said. "One of my biggest disappointments is the farm Bureau in Waco. They were fighting this thing, then all of a sudden, they (backed it). I called them and they said, 'Well, we felt like we just couldn't get anything more now, and we're trying to get an amendment.'"

Texas lawmakers reviewed eminent domain laws following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that backed government's power to take private land for economic development as a way to increase tax revenue.

The Texas Association of Realtors, which endorsed Perry's 2006 campaign last month, made the bill he signed into effect last month and again Monday one of its top priorities.

The Waco Tribune-Herald reported Perry said Monday at the Waco Association of Realtors office, "We believe government should not encroach upon the private property rights unless there is an eminent public need. Eminent domain for public use is a necessary power. Eminent domain for private use is a great threat. There is a new law in place that ensures a developer's dream for a new strip mall or a new skyscraper does not take precedence over your dream of owning your own home."

Hegar told the Fort Bend Herald he doesn't want to lessen private property rights or allow government to take land from private property owners.

"The first step taken in the special session is not the last step," he said. "We all want to protect private property rights."

Myska said the bill in question is a method to "get a right-of-way for the purpose of transporting pipelines and for the railroad."

"Somebody involved in the Trans-Texas Corridor got the pressure to get that ruling out. The state of Texas is not in the railroad transportation business, and not in the pipeline business," he said, adding the Trans-Texas Corridor "is a real bothersome thing to me. Relocating railroads is a big part of the entire picture. They're trying to get an amendment through that would give them a giant source of money to do it, and we, the people, would have to pay for it.

"We should have gotten a constitutional amendment, and I think we're still wide open for a terrific amount of abuse," Myska insisted.

"I don't think we got even close to what we need,' he said of the bill signed by Perry. "Strayhorn is exactly right: We're still wide open for them to go in and take our land."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

© 2005 Fort Bend Herald: www.herald-coaster.com