8/17/2005

Filibuster fails to stop eminent domain limit: Houston (TX) Chronicle, 8/17/05

Lawmaker's UH arguments leave some baffled

By Polly Ross Hughes

Sen. Mario Gallegos so strongly opposes a bill limiting government powers of eminent domain that he tried to kill it with a 2 1/2 -hour filibuster Tuesday.

His attempt failed, but it left fellow senators and even Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst scratching their heads.

"I don't know. I don't know," Dewhurst said about what motivated Gallegos.

Gallegos, a Houston Democrat, complained during floor debate that wording added by the Texas House to save a hamburger restaurant "affects my district!"

The amendment by Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, prohibits universities from using eminent domain powers to take land for a "lodging facility" or a parking garage to accommodate it.

It originally only applied to the University of Texas, which wanted to seize the land of Player's restaurant, owned by Oliveira's cousin, to build a parking garage for a proposed conference center and hotel.

Oliveira later expanded the amendment to include all universities, arguing that state-supported schools should not be in the business of competing with privately owned hotels operating in the free market.

Gallegos said he thinks the restriction is unfair to the University of Houston-Downtown, just in case the Hilton Hotel decides three years from now that it wants to run a hotel-restaurant management project downtown as it does on the university's main campus. "I do not like the amendment. Rene Oliveira's amendment denies them that right," he said.

Dewhurst said Gallegos first told him it was the city of Houston that opposed the eminent domain bill, but bill sponsor Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, told Dewhurst that Houston Mayor Bill White does not oppose it.

"Then it was the University of Houston was opposing the bill," he said of his conversation with Gallegos. "So I said, 'Fine, let's get the president of the University of Houston on the phone.'

"Then he said, 'No, it was the developers.' "

UH spokesman Eric Gerber said the school was not concerned about the bill's eminent domain limits on its future downtown development.

"Officially, no, University of Houston doesn't have a horse in that race," Gerber said.

Senate Bill 7, with the amendment, was approved and sent to the governor Tuesday afternoon.


Houston Chronicle: www.chron.com