It has been another busy week for those of us in the TSCRA government and public affairs realm.
Progress on reopening the economy and getting back to normal seems to be continuing, but that means Washington, D.C., is also getting back to normal. Despite some partisan bickering, the House, Senate and White House worked together pretty well to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as restrictions ease and more of the country reopens, the usual Washington gridlock is starting to reemerge.
The partisan cracks are becoming increasingly apparent, especially with discussions on the fifth round of COVID-19 aid. The Democratic-controlled House has been working on a $3 trillion, 1,815-page bill called the HEROES Act. The bill is full of Democratic priorities, many of which are non-starters for Republicans. Though the legislation is expected to pass the House along party lines later today, it has already been pronounced dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate.
With coronavirus relief dominating conversations, it remains to be seen if other legislation will move. To further complicate things, the general election is less than six months away. That means more focus on the campaign trail and less on official business in Washington.
Elsewhere in Washington, USDA is getting closer to opening the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, or CFAP. This week the agency conducted a short conference call to brief producers on the program and how to apply. As expected, producers will need to go through their local USDA Farm Service Agency. They have yet to release details on who will qualify and how they will distribute the money, but they have provided some of the forms needed to apply so producers can begin gathering the necessary personal information. More info is available at https://www.farmers.gov/cfap.
The bottom line: if you’re interested, start working on these forms now. We expect USDA to begin taking applications shortly after Memorial Day, but the money will likely go quickly.
At TSCRA, our focus remains largely on COVID-19 related issues, but we’re not losing sight of the many other policy areas that we’re responsible for. Government agencies and courts on both the state and federal levels are continuing to conduct non-coronavirus business that will impact cattle producers.
Case in point was a ruling last week from a Corpus Christi appeals court on the proposed high-speed rail project from Houston to Dallas. The project would cut through a large swath of rural Texas to connect the two cities, causing serious property rights concerns for TSCRA members along the path. The company responsible for the project has repeatedly claimed that they have eminent domain power to take the land they need for the project and have used the threat of eminent domain to acquire property. However, after being rebuked by property owners, federal and state agencies, and the Texas legislature, several court battles began.
The latest ruling out of Corpus Christi, unfortunately, agreed with the company and declared that they were indeed a railroad and possess eminent domain authority. The ruling could have a profound impact on property rights since it opens the door for anyone who calls themselves a railroad to take private property with little recourse for property owners.
Fortunately, an appeal is in the works and the case will be elevated to the Texas Supreme Court. TSCRA will continue to monitor and engage on the issue to fight for your property rights.
I think that’s all for this week, so until next time, stay safe and keep up the good work.
Jeremy Fuchs is the director of public affairs for Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.