July 14, 2005
What's the rush?

The Senate has approved the proposed constitutional amendment restricting eminent domain, but not without some grumbling.

"While most people, including me, think they knew what public use was, the Supreme Court said that public use could include things like economic development," said Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, the bill's author.

"The ownership of land is precious to the people of this state," Janek said. "I think people value those investments as much as they do anything else, perhaps maybe more than we do our pickup trucks."

Janek said he agreed to an amendment exempting a proposed $650 million stadium in Arlington for the Dallas Cowboys because he thought it was necessary to move the bill forward.

However, he successfully fought off attempts by Houston Republican Sen. Jon Lindsay, who wanted to subject the bill to required review in two to four years.

Houston Democrat Sen. John Whitmire and Janek engaged in a heated debate as Whitmire repeatedly urged lawmakers to slow down and study the issue more, pointing out that local officials wanting to pursue economic development projects are elected officials.

Whitmire's complaint about the speed with which this measure got approved mirrors that of Kip Averitt on the telecom bill. I favor the concept behind this bill, but I think Whitmire's right to worry. This wouldn't be the first time that a bill was passed without a clear understanding of what it would actually do, and given how little time there's been since this was added to the agenda, it's easy to imagine that there may be gotchas lurking. And of course, since this is a constitutional amendment, fixing any glaring problems that crop up later on is nontrivial.

I guess what I'm saying here is that this session was supposed to be about school finance. Even putting aside the fact that there still isn't an actual agreement on that yet, squeezing issues like this and the telecom bill into the last ten days pretty much guarantees that they'll be underscrutinized. Besides, as The Red State pointed out previously, none of these other agenda items really qualify as "extraordinary occasions". School finance is the reason they're there. Until that's signed, sealed, and delivered, anything else feels like a distraction.

(Oh, and speaking of the main attraction, it got another editorial thumbs down today.)

UPDATE: Lt. Gov. Dewhurst agrees with me.

Dewhurst told reporters and a handful of tourists who caught him in a Capitol hallway this afternoon that the Senate would not vote on conference committee bills that deal with any other issues until a final school finance plan is passed.

Were not going to pass out and agree to other conference committee reports until we pass school finance, Dewhurst said. Thats why were here. The sooner we pass school finance, the sooner Im going to let the Senate take up other pieces of legislation.

Indeed. I just hope that he recognizes that there may not be enough time to do so in a worthwhile fashion at that point.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 14, 2005 to That's our Lege | TrackBack

I favor the concept behind this bill, but I think Whitmire's right to worry. This wouldn't be the first time that a bill was passed without a clear understanding of what it would actually do

What is unclear? What are the gotchas?

If you favor the concept behind the bill, why in the world put it off two years when there's a chance to act on it now?

Do you support it or not?

If you can't decide, was it really worthy of comment?

Posted by: kevin whited on July 15, 2005 12:32 AM

I'm sorry, but this irritates me:

Janek said his bill is needed because it was wrong for an 87-year-old woman to lose her childhood home in the New London, Conn., case the Supreme Court decided, just to make way for economic development.

Is it okay if she were 27? 37? 47? When is it exactly okay to kick someone out of their home because they haven't attained a certain "protected age?"

I support the legislation. But I'm tired of seeing the "helpless fixed-income defenseless senior" card played.

At least it wasn't "all about the children" this time.

Posted by: Tim on July 15, 2005 2:41 PM

Once again, I'm mostly with Kevin. (I can't even remember the last issue we agreed on; I just remember it's happened once or twice before.)

There is a real concern that our all-GOP Supreme Court could s t r e t c h the definition of "economic development" to cover eminent domain actions that are clearly for public benefit. So I'd support a sunset clause, but I wouldn't hold up the bill over that issue.

Generally speaking, I have much less concern over the potential ramifications of this bill than the quite evident ramifications of the telecom bill.

Posted by: Mathwiz on July 16, 2005 6:08 PM