Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sen Nichols: "SB 792 is a good first step."

Special session avoided?


Lucretia Fernandez
The Courier (Montgomery County)
Copyright 2007

It looks like Montgomery County lawmakers won't be working in Austin during a special session because the Texas Legislature has come to an agreement on transportation issues.

Gov. Rick Perry had threatened a special session if the chambers couldn't solve crucial highway problems.

The Senate approved the conference committee's version of Senate Bill 792, authored by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, Friday. Williams also was the chair of the Senate conference committee for the bill.

The House was expected to address the bill Friday evening or Saturday to see whether its ready for the governor.

The bill's main component is a two-year moratorium on private equity toll roads, proposed by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville.

"Before I proposed a moratorium on private toll roads, Texas was threatened with contracts that would hold our transportation system hostage for the next half-century," Nichols said. "In the last three months, legislators engaged in a critical debate about how to protect taxpayers while still addressing urgent transportation needs. SB 792 is a good first step."

Under the bill, 99 percent of Texas' highway system is protected from private contracts during the moratorium. Counties, which are covered by a local toll authority, have a chance to voice opinions before a private equity contract proceeds. A study task force will evaluate the privatization of toll roads and make recommendations for the next legislative session.

As the session comes to an end, Nichols is celebrating some of his major bills becoming law.
The Senate amended House Bill 1495, sponsored by Nichols, and the House approved them Friday. It requires governments that condemn private property to provide landowners a clear, timely notification of their rights.

"All Texas landowners deserve to know their rights, not just the ones who can afford a lawyer," Nichols said. "This bill provides a plain-English explanation of Texas' protections for landowners facing the threat of eminent domain."

Lucretia Fernandez can be reached at

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