July 18, 2005
House approves telecom and eminent domain bills

Meanwhile, as we wait for that ever-elusive consensus to kick in regarding school finance, the House took care of some other business yesterday. Item One was approval of the telecom bill. But don't celebrate just yet if you've got stock in SBC or Verizon.

Big phone companies won passage of major legislation Sunday that would let them set their own residential rates and ease their move into the television business.

The House passed Senate Bill 21 by a wide margin and with only modest changes from the version that the Senate approved. Normally, that would send the legislation to a conference committee for quick negotiation and on to the governor's desk for signing.

But Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has said he is reluctant to finish any legislation until there's agreement on school finance, the issue for which the special session was called.

And prospects for such an agreement are dwindling, with only three days until the session ends. That puts the fate of Senate Bill 21 in limbo.


Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, on Sunday called the proposals "a special interest handout."

"The cry of SBC is, we can't make it without special rules," Dutton said. "We're telling other businesses: Don't mess with the bully in the backyard. Take on a poor little conglomerate like SBC, and you take on the Legislature as well."

Dutton was one of six to vote no on the legislation, which received 135 votes on final reading.


[Bill sponsor Rep. Phil] King and other backers of the legislation say that it's time for Texas to update its laws to match the rapid changes in the telecom industry and that the changes will benefit consumers.

"I think five years from now, we will see this accomplish its goals" of boosting competition and lowering prices, King said.

Maybe, maybe not. I just hope that five years from now someone attempts to assess those goals objectively. And for what it's worth, Texas for a change is leading the pack, not following it:

The outcome of the Texas legislation is being closely watched by lawmakers in other states, such as New Jersey and California, who are also considering changes to their public utilities laws.

The House also unanimously passed on final reading its bill to restrict eminent domain. In its modified form, the effort in Freeport would be blocked:

The House version of the eminent domain bill was amended to stop the city of Freeport from seizing waterfront land from a family-owned shrimping company to make way for a private marina project.

Banjo has the local angle on this one.

Buried deep within the story is something that sounds like a real curb on the Trans Texas Corridor.

The House bill also requires local approval from county commissioners courts for state use of eminent domain to seize land for gas stations, convenience stores, hotels and other commercial enterprises in the median of the Trans-Texas Corridor, Gov. Rick Perry's ambitious toll road project.

As I understand it, the private contractor (Cintra, in the case of the first project) that will build and operate the TTC will also be the landlord for commercial property on these medians. Given the strong opposition to the TTC in many rural counties, what are the odds that their county commissioners courts will give their approval for this purpose? I can't believe this is something Rick Perry would have wanted.

There's some more info here, but I'm not sure that it clears things up.

Eminent domain still would be allowed for roads, airports, water projects, pipelines and utility easements. Property can still be seized to build the Trans Texas Corridor, the governor's top transportation priority, which plans to build toll roads, railroads and pipelines across the state.

But the bill restricts the Texas Department of Transportation's use of eminent domain.

The department could condemn farms and other property to build a corridor and allow for gas stations and convenience stores to be located in a corridor's median though not within 10 miles of an interchange with an interstate highway.

But the bill would rescind the authority the Legislature gave the department in 2003 to use eminent domain to provide "ancillary facilities" to a toll road such as hotels, restaurants or other commercial operations.

Color me confused. Can anyone help me out here?

Anyway, as with the telecom bill, this one still has to go through the joint committee process, and as such may wind up being killed by deadline pressures. If not, expect to see it on your ballot this November.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 18, 2005 to That's our Lege | TrackBack