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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bonnen Passes Amendment to TxDOT Sunset Bill

Insider's Report Vol. 7, No. 18

Protects businesses from delayed highway projects

On Thursday, the House of Representatives began consideration of HB 300, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) sunset bill.  With over 180 proposed amendments to the bill, I was on the House floor until midnight, and debate continued on this important piece of legislation today.

I am proud to have successfully passed an amendment to HB 300, which will require contractors who are responsible for delaying a highway project to compensate area business entities adversely affected by the delays.  This provision would require TxDOT to collect damages from a contractor and send the damages to the municipality in which the businesses are located.  Eligible businesses would be notified and have up to one year to submit a claim to the city, or to TxDOT if the business is located outside of the municipality's limits, who would then distribute the funds accordingly.  Any money collected but not claimed may be used by the city for local transportation projects.

When a business can rely on a contractor to meet the projected timeline for completion of a project, the owner can usually plan accordingly and take precautions to ensure the vitality of their business.  However, when the project goes well beyond its deadline, area business owners experience a revenue loss beyond their estimates and often are unable to recover.  This amendment would give businesses recourse and also incentivize highway contractors to meet their obligations.

This amendment is similar to a bill I filed this session, HB 2533, which received a hearing before the House Committee on Transportation but has not yet advanced further through the legislative process.  With procedural deadlines upon us, proposing this amendment was an effective way to debate this issue before the entire House of Representatives.  Some Representatives attempted to kill my amendment, but I spoke at length about the financial loss and overall uncertainty dealt to West Columbia businesses such as Chesney’s Jewelry and Scott's BBQ during the extensive delays in TxDOT's widening of Highway 35.  The House's final approval of my amendment shows their clear support of my efforts to protect businesses from highway project delays.  I will be working to ensure this amendment remains a part of HB 300 as it continues to move through the process.  (For more details of the House Floor debate, see the attached story from The Dallas Morning News below).

From The Dallas Morning News Transportation blog:

Pickett loses showdown with Bonnen over penalty fees for slow contractors

When road contractors miss deadlines, they sometimes have to pay liquidated damages. Rep. Dennis Bonnen wants to let local communities that have had to put up with the hassles keep some of those damages, rather than having them all go to TxDOT.

Transportation chairman Joe Pickett argued hard against the amendment, but in a show-down he lost. The amendment passes.

Pickett pleaded with Bonnen to take down his amendment and bring it to the transportation committee (where it already was defeated in a somewhat different guise.) Bonnen demurred. "I'm in my seventh term," he said. "I know what happens to a bill that has an HB in front of it on the Tuesday before the Friday that's the last day to consider this legislation. ... Members, I hate to tell you this, but if you have a bill and it's not already on the calendars schedule, it's not going to pass. If it's still in committee, it darn sure isn't going to pass."

Pickett tried to rally his troops -- "it's late, I know it's late," he said. "But we can't do this, not at this late moment." But to no avail.