West Central News for Wednesday, April 18:
Senate approves Long’s water sales stipulation bill, amends it before sending it to House
BY ELONA WESTON
The Senate on Wednesday amended and approved a bill that, according to its author, aims to add a layer of citizens’ oversight to any out-of-state water sales deal proposed by the Sabine River Authority of Louisiana.
Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, is behind Senate Bill 436 which says that a deal would have to be approved by the governing authorities of the five parishes in the Toledo Bend Reservoir territory.
It would also come before the state Joint Natural Resources Committee.
Already in law is a stipulation that the governor must sign off on a deal.
Last week, members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, which Long chairs, added joint committee oversight but removed language outlining the parish governing authorities’ approval, which was in the initial bill.
However, senators amended the bill on the Senate floor Wednesday, adding the requirement again at Long’s request.
“We’re trying to give some citizens’ involvement,” Long told senators.
Long, in a Wednesday interview on the measure, said that he decided to propose amending his bill once more at the urging of Rep. Frankie Howard, R-Many, who, according to Long, said he has received feedback from many constituents who wanted the bill in its original posture.
Long said that he and Gov. Bobby Jindal oppose out-of-state water sales.
In January, when the decision to back off of sales was announced, Jindal’s Chief-of-Staff Stephen Waguespack said the governor did not support the deal because it was “moving too fast.”
“His (Jindal) position is my position: Texas owns 50 percent of the water already,” Long said.
Long said, however, that he thinks it would be a mistake to write a bill and enact law that prohibits water sales under any and all circumstances.
“But what this bill says is that our water is not for sale,” he said.
Long said he knows that there is public skepticism surrounding the sales issue.
“I do understand the public’s mistrust. The SRA acted hastily and with not enough public input,” he said. “They brought me the proposal long before they brought it to the governor and it was clear that they were getting squeezed by the people who wanted to purchase it.”
The bill comes on the heels of heated debate on out-of-state water sales.
The SRA announced earlier this year that it would back off of a proposal from a group of Texas and Louisiana investors amid a flurry of opposition from residents around the state.
Long’s bill now heads to the House for debate.
In 2005, state lawmakers gave the SRA the authority to sell water outside the basin.