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Senate Moves to Block Capitol Complex Developments

Liang Shi for KUT

UPDATE (4/4/13): Senate Bill 507 by State Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) passed the Senate unanimously today.

The bill would limit public private partnerships, or P3’s, in the area around the Capitol grounds.  The bill is closely related to SB 894 by State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston).

Last month Watson even likened his bill to a failsafe for Whitmire’s initial bill in a committee hearing last month. 

ORIGINAL STORY: A Senate committee okayed a bill today that would halt development in the Capitol Complex area for at least the next two years.

SB 894, by State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), will make unsolicited proposals for development of the area north of the Capitol grounds illegal and amend Texas law to require potential developers to pitch their development plans before the Legislature every two years.

The bill would also put a moratorium on any solicited bids for development for the next two years, starting in September.

“I feel strongly that if anyone has any plans for commercial development in the Capitol Complex, they need to come to the Legislature with a bill and debate the merits before the full Legislature,” Whitmire said this morning before the Senate Economic Development committee, adding that he was “obviously coming down very hard” on public-private partnerships, or P3’s, in the area.

Whitmire said that with 27 co-authors on the bill, he and the committee expect it to pass a Senate vote sometime within the next few weeks. But, just in case, former Austin mayor and State Sen. Kirk Watson filed SB 507, which would serve as a legislative benchwarmer in the unlikely event that Whitmire’s bill should not pass.

“His bill takes precedence,” Watson said. “Otherwise [my bill will] become law, and in those circumstances it creates a moratorium and creates two mechanisms for vetoing any P3.”

The Texas Facilities Commission handled any solicitation of development contracts in the area and began entertaining public-private partnerships until the Texas Sunset Commission placed a moratorium on developments this January. Scrapped plans included a development on the Texas Department of Transportation-controlled lot at 11th Street and Congress Avenue and a 47-story development that would have included a planetarium.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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