By Jim Hughes
Undeterred by Gov. Bill Owens' veto of the same proposal last year, the Senate Transportation Committee on Thursday unanimously approved a measure that would prohibit private toll-road developers from using eminent domain powers to condemn land.
The Republican sponsor of Senate Bill 78, Sen. Tom Wiens of Castle Rock, said negotiations with Owens' office have so far yielded no compromise on the issue that last spring brought hundreds of activist homeowners to the state Capitol.
The controversy arose when it became known that the Front Range Toll Road Company planned to use a 19th-century law to condemn a swath of land to the east of Front Range communities so it could build a for-profit north-south tollway. Wiens' bill would do away with the condemnation powers offered in that law, forcing toll-road companies to enter into partnerships with governments.
"When your house and your land is in danger of being taken from you, it changes your whole attitude," explained Barbara Fillmore, whose ranch straddling the line between Elbert and El Paso counties lies in the proposed transportation corridor.
Fillmore and a handful of other homeowners attended Thursday's hearing at the Capitol, saying they were gratified to see the committee once again support Wiens' legislation.
Supporters of the bill are hoping this election year for a change of heart from Owens or a willingness in the General Assembly to override another potential veto, said homeowner Patty Sward-Malczewski of Elizabeth. It takes a two-thirds majority in the House and the Senate to overcome a governor's veto.
"If you're up for election or re-election, why would you vote against this?" Sward-Malczewski said. "It doesn't make political sense."
Owens vetoed Wiens' bill last year because he said he didn't want to preclude private solutions to transportation problems in the state, he said.
But that argument does not hold up to scrutiny, Wiens said Thursday. There are other ways for private companies to build toll roads without condemnation
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