Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The new property rights battle

Quick quiz: What did Sen. Eltife call "Trans-Texas Corridor Round 2" in committee?

Answer: Eltife was referring to the idea to build 19 reservoir sites across the state, which Senate Natural Resources took up yesterday. He claimed that the state would be "trampling people's water rights."

The battle over water mirrors the battle over energy: numbers projecting future growth are heavily cited but not well defined. The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) adopted a plan last November that would necessitate 250,000 acres of land to build upon, and most of that would be taken by eminent domain.

The Quorum Report noted in its daily buzz that opposition came not only from environmental groups but also the Texas Farm Bureau and the Cattlemen's Association of Texas. Organized labor is also coming out against this, since these reservoirs would build upon land that the logging industry currently uses as its source for trees.

Essentially, these reservoirs would take a section of land, put some sort of structure on it, and fill it with water. It would devastate whatever's currently there: a farm, a tree farm, or fuzzy animals.

The push for these comes mainly from the cities, such as Dallas and Fort Worth (if Dan Branch's grandstanding on HB 3 on the floor was any indication..), who believe that Texas will soon run out of water, therefore we must build them. (Sound familiar?) The ironic note is that Dallas mayor Laura Miller (was? is?) leading the cities' fight against TXU and their plans for new coal plants. She had been saying that the "need" argument for the new coal plants construction is a sham. Hmm.....

Anyways, critics of the reservoirs say that 19 reservoirs is egregious. The main reason, they say, why we don't need them is because we waste so much water right now anyways. Much like in the energy fight, if we enacted not only conservation but efficiency programs (like better pipes, etc.), we wouldn't need the reservoirs to begin with.

Sen. Kip Averitt, who authored the bill and chairs the committee hearing it, is intent on keeping the reservoirs as part of the omnibus water bill, SB 3, even though it could come at a cost to passing out the bill and despite SB 675, a stand-alone bill for the reservoirs.

HB 3 is now in the Senate and will presumably go through Senate Natural Resources. HB 4 will start moving in a few weeks' time, and neither deals with new reservoirs. Averitt may not try attaching the reservoir language to HB 3, since it's essentially a scientific study of bays and estuaries, but he may try it on HB 4 to get reservoirs out of committee. I guess we'll see how it plays out.

I'll end this on a positive note: The theme of this session, though, seems to be less politically divisive than the previous two. I like that Eltife can air objections to a bill that puts him on the same side as the Sierra Club. I personally like it when the debate is just around policy.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

More on HB 8 and TYC

Instead of trying to write something comprehensive myself, I'll reference the intelligent posts by several fellow bloggers:

Delay made Jessica's Law worse by Grits for Breakfast

Two out of three ain't bad by the Texas Observer Blog

And tons of posts by Capitol Annex

HB 8's tougher sentencing laws, though well intentioned, will indeed make it tougher for children to speak up, especially in smaller communities where many citizens know each other. The attention that a trial and 25 year sentence would draw would make it harder for children to speak up. The shame of the event would encourage kids to keep their mouths shut for fear of other kids finding out and ridiculing them for the remainder of their K-12 education. No, this is not an appropriate tribute for Jessica Lunsford.

However, this didn't prevent Rep. Riddle from accepting an award for passing the bill: "I want to thank my staff, my husband...." My goodness.

On a related note, Jim Dunnam (D-Waco) tried to call up HB 2340 before the HB 8 debate that would establish a conservatorship for TYC, but Speaker Craddick shot that down with a simple, "No." Instead, Dunnam attached an amendment providing a second-degree felony for any state employee who know of sexual assaults but fail to report them. This section may not make it to the Governor's desk with the rest of the bill.

Interestingly, Gov. Perry is still reluctant to overhaul TYC. However, as Kuff points out, Perry has ordered the Lege to act quickly to fix some of the problems making headlines across the state. According to the post, Rep. Madden is eager to hear some bills and get them on the floor soon.