Sunday, December 02, 2007

“We’re going to start a yearlong effort to consolidate support (for legislation reform) in order to, if necessary, override Perry’s veto.”

Texas Farm Bureau vows to fight over eminent domain laws

December 02, 2007

By Van Darden
The Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2007

The Texas Farm Bureau’s No. 1 priority for 2008 is achieving “meaningful reform” of Texas’ eminent domain laws, bureau president Kenneth Dierschke said Saturday.

The bureau kicked off its 74th annual convention Saturday afternoon.

Dierschke met with members of the press to answer questions about the bureau’s policy-setting convention and the direction the bureau will take in the coming year.

“We’re going to start a yearlong effort to consolidate support (for legislation reform) in order to, if necessary, override Perry’s veto,” Dierschke said.

Last year, Gov. Rick Perry vetoed House Bill 2006, which dealt with eminent domain legislation. It had passed both houses of the Legislature and had Perry’s support until a late amendment was added that state and local officials said could cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

The amendment allowed property owners to sue over “diminished access” to their property due to construction of new roads or structures.

Currently, the state government does not have to compensate property owners for the loss of value on the remaining property.

“We understand that growth is important for our state,” Dierschke said. “That includes property owners being compensated fairly.”

Also, land taken under eminent domain does not require a good-faith offer from the government, he said. If a property owner is not satisfied with a low offer, they can fight for a better one in court, which can prove to be an expensive decision.

“House Bill 2006 would have levelled the playing field for property owners,” said Texas Farm Bureau director of organization Joe Maley. “Right now, after Perry’s veto, the field is not level.”

A spokeswoman for the governor’s office said that if a clean bill were to come to Perry, he would gladly sign it.

“The governor believes that (the amendment) would have done nothing but make condemnation lawyers rich,” the spokeswoman said. “It would cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Another point of concern Dierschke said the bureau will concentrate on is continuing to fight the Trans-Texas Corridor, a multibillion dollar highway expansion system advocated heavily by Perry and private contractors.

Dierschke said construction on the TTC would result in millions of privately owned acres taken under eminent domain.

“The governor says we need the Trans-Texas Corridor,” Dierschke said. “We are just asking for dialogue.”

Dierschke said a bureau committee has contacted the governor’s office several times requesting access to information regarding the highway project but has not been met with much cooperation.

“All we wanted to do is take a look at the actual contracts, but after six months of asking, we haven’t seen anything,” Dierschke said.

Perry’s spokeswoman said bureau members should be looking to Texas Department of Public Transportation for information about the program.

“Almost half of Texas’ population lives along the I-35 corridor,” the spokeswoman said. “We have to provide them with more infrastructure.”

The spokeswoman added that the governor’s office would welcome any alternative proposal the bureau has. “If they have a better solution, we would love to hear it.”

Dierschke said other goals for 2008 include fine-tuning a federal farm program “that works,” involving farmers and ranchers in developing renewable energy sources and preventing potential conflicts between rural and urban Texans.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, will address the convention at 1:30 p.m. today.

According to a statement from Cornyn’s office, the junior senator is expected to provide conference attendees with updates on the 2007 Farm Bill, along with the status of immigration reform and other pressing issues for Texas families.


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