County opposed to proposed Environmental lawsuit changes

Texas House Bill could "handcuff" county options

EL PASO, Texas - El Paso County commissioners are working to oppose two bills that could handcuff them in future environmental lawsuits.

State Rep. Cindy Burkett authored two Texas House bills that change the way future lawsuits will be handled. Commissioners discussed the issues they saw during Monday's meeting.

One bill, referred to as HB 3117, would change the way El Paso County, and other counties, would be allowed to proceed with environmental lawsuits. It allows the state's attorney general to step in and determine whether a lawsuit should be settled.

Manny Romero, an assistant county attorney, said it would allow the attorney general to say, "We don't care whether or not you agree or disagree, we'll settle it on your account. You have no recourse."

El Paso County's point of contact for the Texas Legilative session is Rosemary Neill. She told commissioners they should never support bills that take away their power, in this case she said it would be dangerous given water rights issues that may arise in the future.

"Protecting water at all costs is very important, and these are decisions you should make," Neill said.

The second bill, also penned by Burkett, calls for a change in the way the county hires outside law firms to represent the county. In any environmental lawsuit, HB 3119 would require all counties to pay costs up front for lawsuits. Right now, they're allowed to hire law firms on contingency. That means they would get paid after the fact, and in some cases only if a lawsuit is won.

The county hasn't done this in recent history according to Romero, but county employees didn't seem willing to give up any powers that they now hold.

The Conference of Urban Counties is against the bill too.

Bills will be discussed tomorrow in the Texas House.

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