By JANET ELLIOTT - Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau - June 16, 2007
AUSTIN — An eminent domain bill that opponents said could shut down road construction was among 49 bills vetoed Friday by Gov. Rick Perry.
Perry also struck bills involving ex-convicts' right to possess firearms, increasing the early release of prisoners and prohibiting school buses from idling near campuses.
Although the governor has until Sunday to review legislation, he completed his bill signings and vetoes on Friday night. Most of the hundreds of bills that he has signed into law will go into effect by the end of August.
Major legislation approved by Perry will add up to 130,000 more children to the Children's Health Insurance Program by allowing many working parents to enroll their youngsters annually instead of every six months.
The governor also signed "Jessica's Law," a major priority of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, to hike penalties for pedophiles, including expanding the death penalty to those who twice commit the most heinous forms of child rape.
Also becoming law with Perry's signature was legislation requiring insurance companies to pay for treatment of children with autism. The Texas Association of Business had urged Perry to veto the bill because of the group's standing opposition to mandates on employers.
But advocates said the measure requiring companies to cover treatment for 3- to-5-year-old children with autism, would give families hope, save some from bankruptcy and reduce long-term costs for taxpayers.
The eminent domain bill, HB 2006, had enjoyed Perry's support until an amendment was added late in the session that state and local officials said could cost taxpayers billions of dollars. The amendment would have allowed property owners to sue for "diminished access" to their property because of new roads or road construction. Current law requires property owners to show "material or substantial damages" before seeking compensation.
Another provision would have allowed the recovery of damages for changes in traffic patterns and visibility of the property from the road. Texas courts have long disallowed this practice because it would make some public projects too expensive to build, Perry said.
He said he had alerted legislators who handled the bill to his concerns. But House author Rep. Beverly Woolley, R-Houston, said she feared there wasn't time in the last days of the session to work out compromise language.
The bill was strongly supported by Republicans as a response to a controversial decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on private property rights.
But Perry said he had received letters from many fast-growth cities and counties asking him to veto it because the cost of constructing projects will increase by more than $1 billion.
Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, who offered the amendment that Perry opposed, said he was stunned by the reaction from local officials. He said the amendment was identical to a failed bill he carried but that "no one testified against it, no one came to visit me, no fiscal implication (was added to it)."