Thursday, June 25, 2009

Overriding late Gov. veto fails--Gov. VETOES ban on toll advertising

Constitutional amendment to let the legislature return to override a Governor's veto fails

One of the things that didn’t make it through this last session was a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the legislature to come back after the regular session to override gubernatorial vetoes of bills that had been passed by both houses. As it is now, if a bill is passed toward the end of the session, time runs out before the legislature can try to override the governor’s veto, even if the votes are there to override.

The override amendment was introduced in both the House and the Senate. HJR 29 by Representative Elkins was voted out of the House State Affairs Committee, but didn’t pass the House. SJR 14 by Sen. Wentworth was voted out of the Senate State Affairs Committee, but was not allowed to be considered by the full Senate by Lt. Gov. Dewhurst. There is an informative explanation of this in the Statesman:

Governor vetoes the ban on promoting toll roads

A prime example of why we need the constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to come back to override a veto is the fate of HB 2142.

During the last few years, TxDOT spent millions in taxpayer money for advertising and lobbying to actively promote toll roads, including the Trans-Texas Corridor. The TURF organization sued TxDOT to stop this practice. While the lawsuit was pending, Representative McClendon introduced HB 2142 this session, which would have banned the use of our money in this way.

HB 2142 easily passed both houses and was on its way to protect us from having our own money used against us, when Gov. 39% vetoed it. As Sen. Kirk Watson said, “This shows so much chutzpah that I still can’t believe it, the Governor vetoed a bill prohibiting TxDOT from actively advertising their toll roads. The bill passed unanimously at nearly every step (it passed 132-1 on the House floor). And all it says is TxDOT can’t spend taxpayer money influencing public opinion about toll roads.”

TURF’s Terri Hall said that a judge had been on the verge of dismissing TURF’s lawsuit against TxDOT because it looked like HB 2142 had put this protection of taxpayer funds into statute. However, with Perry’s veto, TURF’s lawsuit now may have a better chance of proceeding.

Perry's vetoes show need for veto override

Perry’s veto of eminent domain protection in the 2007 session, and now his veto of the ban on using our money to promote toll roads, including the Corridor, are both reasons why legislators should be able to come back to consider overriding vetoes of bills that are overwhelmingly desired by the people and their representatives.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

More between-session news--eminent domain; Perry signs non-existent document

As the end of the session approached, there were two pieces of eminent domain legislation that had a chance of getting through—SB 18 and HJR 14.


SB 18 was the bill desired by organizations like the Texas Farm Bureau. It called for more transparency in the condemnation process, compensation for diminished access, and the right for the owner to buy back property at its selling price if it was not used for the stated purpose within a certain time period.

SB 18 passed the Senate, passed out of committee to the full House, and was caught in the last-minute logjam caused by the delaying tactics on the House floor to avoid bringing up the voter ID bill.


Even though SB 18 died, HJR 14 calling for a constitutional amendment passed the House and the Senate and will appear on the November ballot. If approved by voters, it would prevent in Texas the situation that happened in the Kelo case, where the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the process of taking property from one private owner and giving it to another private owner. HJR limits the taking of private property to a public taking.


Some, including Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers, and the Texas Farm Bureau, are calling for stronger eminent domain protections to be addressed in a special session. Farm Bureau President Kenneth Dierschke said, “We have to guard against the possibility that some may declare the job done on eminent domain reform. If there is a special session, we hope Governor Perry will add it to the call. If there is not, this has to be a top priority for the next regular session.”


There have been several news accounts of Gov. 39% signing the authorization in front of the Alamo for HJR 14 to be on the ballot this November. The only account I saw that explains that the whole ceremony was a sham is from Ken Herman in the Statesman.

“Who amongst us does not enjoy political theater? . . . The only thing better than political theater is the subcategory of political theater/fiction. This would be when a politician performs in a little show that is fully make-believe. . . .

“A real trouper, Gov. Rick Perry showed up at the Alamo, right arm in sling from a recent bike wreck, and used his left hand to sign House Joint Resolution 14, a proposed constitutional amendment concerning eminent domain. . . .

“Beautiful. Perfect. Inspiring. And as phony as they come.

“Here's why: Texas governors have nothing to do with proposed constitutional amendments. When a proposed amendment gets the necessary two-thirds vote in each chamber — as HJR 14 did this year — it goes to the secretary of state, who puts it on the statewide ballot. Unlike proposed laws, proposed constitutional amendments are not routed through the governor's office.

“No vetoes allowed. No signature required. No signing ceremony needed. . . . It's all about re-establishing Perry as a private property-rights kind of guy, a credential he covets as he heads toward a 2010 renomination battle against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. . . .

“Exactly two years ago Monday, Perry invited questions about his dedication to private property rights by vetoing a bill dealing with the concept of ‘diminished access.’ . . . the veto did not sit well with some, including the Texas Farm Bureau, holder of a potentially pivotal endorsement in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary.

“The 2007 veto came on the heels of Perry's ill-fated Trans-Texas Corridor highway project, one that also attracted the ire of folks who fear government taking of private property.

“Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, stood with Perry on Monday. After the ‘signing’ ceremony, the 21-year legislative veteran could not immediately recall previously attending a ceremony where a governor signed something a governor has no business signing.”

Since there is no provision for such a signing, I wonder what Perry actually signed. Did his office make up an official-looking document that would be a fake with no significance? Then what happened to the signed fake document? Maybe it will become a collector’s item.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Between regular and special sessions--recap of TTC and TxDOT bills

Now that we are between the end of the regular session of the Legislature and the beginning of a special session that Gov. Perry may call for later this summer, this is a good time to recap what happened to the main bills related to the Corridor and the TxDOT Sunset process (HB 300).

The last day of the regular session, the House acted to keep some state agencies, including TxDOT, in business by including them in legislation related to stimulus funding. This action would have caused TxDOT reorganization to be brought up in the 2011 session. However, the evening of the last session day, the Senate did not act on the House solution, thus leaving the future of TxDOT officially up in the air. Technically, if nothing further is done, TxDOT could begin a one-year process of shutting down on September 1 and go out of existence in September 2010.

Practically speaking, no one expects this to happen. Perry has said he will call a special session, although he has not said when or what issues would be included. Some expect that keeping the agencies going will be the bare minimum that will be in the special session.


HB 11 by Leibowitz (D-San Antonio) would have repealed TxDOT’s “authority for the establishment and operation of the Trans-Texas Corridor.” HB 11 received a hearing in the House Transportation Committee, but was left pending in committee. During the House debate on HB 300—the omnibus TxDOT Sunset bill—Leibowitz succeeded in adding repealing the TTC to HB 300. Unfortunately, with the death of HB 300, repealing TTC also died for the regular session.


HB 300, the TxDOT Sunset bill was voted out of the House and the Senate in two different forms. The House/Senate conference committee that was supposed to reconcile the two versions could not come up with a final bill that was readily acceptable by the membership of both houses, and HB 300 died when time ran out in the session.

Isett (R-Lubbock) authored HB 300, the TxDOT Sunset bill, and was the manager of it as it went through the House. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports: “Isett said that since Perry said he will call a special session, he hopes the lawmakers finish the entire legislative package left on the table when the clock ran out. . . . ‘My preference is that we give that agency legislative direction,’ Isett said. . . . I still believe that it is an agency that needs to be updated and reformed at many different levels.’”


HB 565, by McClendon (D-San Antonio) attempted to abolish the Texas Transportation Commission and replace it with an elected state Transportation Commissioner. This bill was left pending in the House Transportation Committee.

While the House was debating TxDOT Sunset, some representatives tried again for some sort of elected Transportation Commission, and the final language called for an elected state-wide Commissioner plus 14 commission members elected from districts around the state. The Senate’s version kept the five governor-appointed commissioners, but reduced terms from six to two years and mandated commissioners leaving when their terms are up.

With the death of the TxDOT Sunset bill, efforts to change the Transportation Commission are stalled for now.


Another bill from McClendon was HB 2142, which prohibits TxDOT from spending our taxpayer money to actively promote toll roads, including the Corridor. TxDOT spent millions on their Keep Texas Moving campaign, which used advertising and lobbying to advocate the building of the Corridor and other toll roads. Terri Hall’s TURF organization sued TxDOT, saying that Keep Texas Moving was an improper use of taxpayer funds. The suit is still pending. In the meantime, McClendon’s bill puts an end to this type of campaign statutorily. It does not forbid putting out neutral informational material. HB 2142 passed both houses and has been sent to the Governor.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ag Commish calls for eminent domain in special session

Many of you might have already seen the column from Ag Commissioner Todd Staples in today’s Statesman. In case you haven’t . . .

SB 18, the bill to provide more protection from eminent domain, the bill that was strongly supported by the Texas Farm Bureau, passed the Senate, although it was held up in the Senate far longer that it should have been. It reached the House so late that it was caught up in the end-of-session slow-down effort in the House, so never passed.

HJR 14 did pass both houses and will be on the November ballot as a constitutional amendment saying that condemnation proceedings must be for a public purpose.

Staples’ column asks that eminent domain protection be one of the subjects in a special session. He says: “The passage of HJR 14, a constitutional amendment that will be sent to the voters in November, provides much needed protection to ensure that, in the unfortunate instance that government must exercise condemnation powers, that it is for a clear public use and purpose.”

“Painfully absent from our laws in Texas . . . are fundamental protections to the owners of private property. A series of loopholes in the law and court decisions have eroded our rights. . . . [SB 18] would have established stricter penalties for not negotiating in good faith; demanded adequate compensation for loss of access; and clarified that eminent domain must only be exercised for public use. We know there are several matters that were casualties of the regular session that need to be tackled — eminent domain reform is without a question or doubt one of these essential topics.”

Monday, June 1, 2009

TxDOT Sunset dead; TxDOT lives until 2011; what about the Trans-Texas Corridor?

After the last several months of the TxDOT Sunset process and the 2009 session, it looks like both the good reforms and the bad additions have NOT made it through. Lots of time and energy expended for nothing, as far as TxDOT reforms go. TxDOT Sunset crept “in this petty pace . . . a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”


Not only did TxDOT Sunset not pass, but also TxDOT was not even saved by the usual method of placing TxDOT survival in the “safety net” legislation.

As reported by the Statesman political blog, the House added keeping TxDOT open “to a bill authorizing state agencies to receive federal stimulus dollars. Agencies have to be open in order to get stimulus dollars . . . So the House corrected the stimulus bills to say that the departments at risk [including TxDOT] would stay open.”


One interesting aspect of doing it this way is that if TxDOT had been continued by the usual “safety net” process, it would have been up for Sunset review in 2013. Now, the TxDOT Sunset Review will happen again in the 2011 session. See the explanation on the Star-Telegram political blog.


The Statesman political blog reports that the Senate may not agree that the House action is allowable.
“Word is there could be a problem with the House wording: It may not allow TxDOT to issue the $2 billion in bonds it needs to continue road-building projects. Big problem that would be. And a bigger one: The House adjourned sine die about 20 minutes ago. So they’ve left the Capitol for good, at least in this legislative session. No way to fix any mistake now.”


Of course, since HB 300, the TxDOT Sunset Bill, died in the House, there was no need for Sen. Carona to filibuster it in the Senate. The Dallas Morning News political blog says, “A smiling Sen. John Carona said Monday he didn’t have to bring his tennis shoes to the Senate floor on Monday after his filibuster threat . . . was made moot by the House decision . . . to let the proposal die.”


The Senate has just adjourned “without approving a key measure to keep five agencies in business—including TxDOT,” according to the Statesman political blog.
“Senate leaders said they expect Perry will call the Legislature back into session to deal with the new crisis. . . . Short of a special legislative session the agencies will begin shutting down in coming months.”


Unfortunately, since HB 300, the TxDOT Sunset Bill, is dead, the language that repealed the Trans-Texas Corridor is also dead. At the beginning the session, Rep. Leibowitz of San Antonio filed HB 11 that specifically repealed TxDOT’s authority to create the TTC which was left pending in committee. However, the language was added to HB 300, where it has died.

Fortunately, the Comprehensive Development Agreements/Public Private Partnerships may also have died. These CDA/PPP were the building blocks of the TTC “vision.” The TTC would have been built by private corporations like Cintra of Spain, who would have been working under comprehensive development agreements. These CDA/PPP’s were added to HB 300, thus allowing segments of the TTC to be built in this way, even if the name TTC was removed.

Without the passage of HB 300, these CDA/PPP’s are due to expire in September. So the language repealing the TTC did not pass. However, the foundational building blocks of the TTC, CDA/PPP’s, also did not pass, and this method of highway construction will expire.

All in all, at this point, we have made further progress against the TTC during this session.