May 10, 2023 - Politics

Cities worry bill in Texas Legislature threatens local laws

Illustration of a row of standing gavels set up and toppling like dominoes

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A bill that officials in San Antonio and other Texas cities worry would dismantle many local regulations is quickly making its way through the Texas Legislature.

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

  • Sen. José Menéndez, a Democrat from San Antonio, was one of two votes against the bill last week.

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 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 have authority to adopt ordinances on everything from development to water protection to health and safety. San Antonio councilmembers recently passed a measure to ramp up apartment inspections.

Details: The goal of the bill, per author Rep. Dustin Burrows, a Republican from Lubbock, is to smooth out a patchwork of local regulations impacting businesses across the state.

  • The latest version of the bill was updated to say that it does not affect cities' abilities to regulate animal control or welfare, a prior concern of San Antonio officials.

Yes, but: Local officials worry the bill is so broad that it's not clear what cities could or couldn't make laws about.

What they're saying: "It's the unknown that is the problem," assistant city manager Jeff Coyle told the City Council in March. "And a big part of the bill is that it allows any resident, any business — anywhere — to sue the city."

  • Mayor Ron Nirenberg worries cities would not be able to resolve local issues that aren't relevant to the state. He has called the bill "one of the most undemocratic things that I've ever seen come from our state Legislature."

The other side: "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.

Zoom out: Progressive organizations are worried it would stop cities from passing local laws to protect workers, like rest break requirements for construction workers in Austin and Dallas. San Antonio has considered a similar law.

  • The bill also gained attention from the National Federation of Independent Business, which supports it.

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 San Antonio officials have been watching.

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


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