May 10, 2023 - News

Austin rules under attack

Illustration of the Texas State Capitol with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

A bill that officials in Austin and other Texas cities worry would dismantle many local regulations — governing everything from beekeeping practices to renter protections — is quickly making its way through the Texas Legislature.

Driving the news: The Texas Senate could vote on House Bill 2127 any time, after it passed the House and a Senate committee approved the bill last week. Its passage in the Senate would send it to Gov. Greg Abbott, who supports it.

Why it matters: The bill could scale back more than a century of cities' home rule authority in Texas, per the Texas Municipal League. Home rule essentially gives some cities the power to govern themselves, implementing anything that is not specifically counter to state law.

  • It would create uncertainty and lead to court battles if signed into law, the Texas Municipal League argues.

State of play: Texas' home rule cities, like Austin, have authority to adopt ordinances on everything from development to water protection to health and safety.

Details: Nondiscrimination ordinances such as the Crown Act — which prohibits discrimination on the basis of hair style or texture — and reproductive health protections would also be loosened by HB 2127, per a May 5 memo from Austin's intergovernmental affairs officer to the mayor and city council.

  • The bill also would preempt cities from adopting new payday lending ordinances or amending existing ones moving forward.

What they're saying: The goal of the bill, per its author, Republican Rep. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock, is to smooth out a patchwork of local regulations impacting business across the state.

  • "We want those small-business owners creating new jobs and providing for their families, not trying to navigate a Byzantine array of local regulations that twist and turn every time" they cross city limits, Burrows said, per the Texas Tribune.

The other side: Progressive organizations are worried it would stop cities from passing local laws to protect workers, like rest break requirements for construction workers in Austin.

The big picture: This year's legislative session has blue Texas cities playing defense against a red Legislature seeking to rein them in. Burrows' bill is one of many Austin has been watching.

The bottom line: The bill appears increasingly likely to make it to Abbott's desk before the legislative session wraps at the end of the month.


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