Monday, June 18, 2007

Sen. Hegar: "I'm confused why all of a sudden, the state is supposedly going to go broke."

Hegar in middle of the storm


By Stephen Palkot
Fort Bend Herald Coaster
Copyright 2007

Fort Bend County's new state senator has become the center of a storm over a state bill that has drawn strong opposition from Fort Bend County and other local governments across the state.

District 18 State Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, has drawn attention for a last-minute amendment to House Bill 2006, which is designed to overhaul the process of acquiring land by governments through eminent domain.

Hegar's amendment calls for local governments to compensate landowners for the value of any "diminished" access to property because of land taken for a state highway project or any toll road.

Critics such as County Judge Bob Hebert contend Hegar's amendment is vague and opens the door to extensive litigation over the question of so-called diminished access when building toll roads. Hebert said litigation and delays could result from the new requirement, costing the county millions of dollars as it pursues extensions of Fort Bend Parkway and Westpark Tollway.

Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the law over the weekend.

Hegar, who was elected to District 18 in 2006, said he is surprised by the outcry over his amendment. He said he proposed the same concept in Senate Bill 1711, which passed in the Senate. The bill died in the Texas House, but it did not receive extensive comment, said Hegar.

"Then all of a sudden, when I amend what was in Senate Bill 1711 into House Bill 2006, TxDOT suddenly says, 'Wait! There's a fiscal implication to the state,'" said Hegar. "I'm confused why all of a sudden, the state is supposedly going to go broke."

Hegar said he inserted the amendment to protect the property rights of landowners, in particular as a reaction against the possibility of the state taking away wide swaths of land for the TransTexas Corridor. Hegar said access roads could be taken away from landowners in that process, and he contends the importance of an access road should be considered in compensating landowners.

"It's kind of like if the state were boarding up the doors to your house and said, 'Don't worry, you can crawl out through the windows,'" said Hegar.

Governmental agencies from the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court to the Harris County Toll Road Authority and the Texas Department of Transportation have said Hegar's amendment alone could result in extensive litigation from landowners and could increase the cost of roads projects by millions of dollars.

Hegar contends his amendment will, in fact, only apply to a small portion of cases where land is taken for public projects.

"How many cases does this really apply to in condemnations in reality? Very few, but I think these people do have some rights," he said.

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