Monday, June 18, 2007

"He's got big ag background but since he's become a politician, he's kind of left ag out."

Farmers upset over Perry veto of eminent domain bill


By BETSY BLANEY Agriculture Writer
The Associated Press
Copyright 2007

LUBBOCK, Texas — One Central Texas farmer said Monday he was "dumbfounded" by Gov. Rick Perry's veto of an eminent domain bill designed to protect landowners when the state wants to take their property.

Robert Fleming is not alone in an area worried about the massive Trans Texas Corridor proposal. The planned route cuts through Fleming's Bell County farms. He's bewildered by Perry's veto.

"We were so close to getting something done," Fleming said. "We've worked hard trying to get private property rights."

Perry vetoed the bill, and 48 others, Friday.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo et al v. City of New London that cities can seize homes under eminent domain for use by private developers. Texas Farm Bureau spokesman Gene Hall said the ruling also said that states that want it otherwise can craft laws to do so. That's what the bill Perry vetoed would have done, he said.

Perry in 2005 named the eminent domain issue as an emergency item in a special session, Perry spokesman Robert Black said.

"The bill Gov. Perry vetoed would have had little impact on rural Texas. It was targeted at high-growth urban areas," Black said.

The Trans Texas Corridor is the plan kick-started several years ago by Perry to build 4,000-plus miles of tollways and railways that would incorporate oil and gas pipelines, utility and water lines, and even broadband data.

One reason Perry gave for vetoing the bill was that it would have expanded damages a landowner could recover to include diminished access to roads from remaining property when a portion of the property is condemned, according to a release from Perry's office.

Also, landowners would have been able to collect damages for factors that include changes in traffic patterns and a property's visibilty from the road, which Texas courts have knocked down because of the added costs to public projects that taxpayers would have to pay, the release states.

After the bill passed both houses — 125 of 150 votes in the House and unanimously in the Senate — Perry's office heard from most fast-growing cities and counties asking him to veto the bill; the cost of constructing state and local projects would have increased by more than $1 billion, the release stated.

"As someone who grew up in rural Texas, and farmed our family's piece of land, I am a strong proponent of protecting private property rights," Perry said in the statement. "But the issue is one of fairness to taxpayers, who will get fleeced in order to benefit condemnation attorneys."

Perry supported the bill early on but had objections to amendments added later, the release states.

The eminent domain issue for portions of the corridor proposal currently is on a back burner, Texas Farm Bureau officials said.

"The more time we have to spread our story and to make an issue out of (eminent domain) is certainly going to help the property owners," said Fleming, who grows corn and wheat, and raises cattle.

Bureau officials said they believed Perry wanted to fix Texas' eminent domain law, having met with him early in the session.

"The taking of private property has become far too easy in this state," Kenneth Dierschke, president of the bureau, said in a statement. "Obviously, there are many powerful interests that prefer it stay that way."

Fleming took aim at Perry, saying he has turned his back on agriculture and his veto makes that clear.

"I feel like he's let us down a little bit," Fleming said. "He's got big ag background but since he's become a politician, he's kind of left ag out."

Bureau spokesman Gene Hall said the group will work to revisit the issue when legislators next gather in regular session in 2009. And they will talk with Perry.

"All we can do now is talk with him and work with him," Hall said. "We are serious about this."


On the Net:

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Trans-Texas Corridor:


Betsy Blaney has been the AP's Lubbock correspondent since 2001 and regularly reports on agricultural issues.

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