May 11, 2023 - News

Texas bills target Harris County

Illustration of red tape holding a gavel back from striking a block.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Texas legislators have filed about a dozen bills targeting Harris County this session.

Why it matters: The series of bills is the "biggest attack on local governance in Texas history," Rafael Lemaitre, communications director for New Economy for Working Houston, tells Axios.

Driving the news: Perhaps the most far-reaching pieces of legislation surround Harris County's elections, where paper ballot shortages at a handful of voting centers during the November 2022 election sparked outrage from Republicans.

  • Yes, but: Separate investigations by the Houston Chronicle and Houston Public Media found that voters weren't systematically disenfranchised during the November election — and that 20 polling places out of 723 (2.8%) experienced a paper shortage.

Details: Senate Bill 1993, filed by several Houston-area Republicans, would allow the Texas secretary of state to order an entirely new election if more than 2% of polling places run out of paper in any given election.

  • Of note: The bill would apply only to counties with a population over 2.7 million — which only includes Harris County.
  • S.B. 823 would allow the secretary of state to suspend an election administrator and appoint a new one.
  • S.B. 1750 would essentially abolish the county's election administrator and transfer the power to the county tax assessor and clerk. This bill would apply only to counties with a population over 3.5 million, which again is only Harris County.
  • Other bills include S.B. 220, S.B. 1039, S.B. 1911 and S.B. 1933 — all with implications that would shrink Harris County's control of its elections.

Aside from elections, Republicans have filed several other bills targeting Harris County — including how the county handles routine business.

  • House Bill 1891 would require all five members of Commissioners Court to be present to vote on a tax rate. Currently, only four commissioners must be present.
  • Last year, Harris County's two Republican commissioners famously boycotted a series of crucial votes on a tax rate to force the county to adopt a lower rate.

Also: S.B. 2515 would regulate how the Harris County Toll Road Authority spends its revenue.

  • S.B. 2431 would abolish the Harris County Flood Control District and create a new Gulf Coast Resiliency District in its stead.

What we're watching: The fate of these bills as the regular session ends later this month.


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