Updated Jul 24, 2023 - News

San Antonio joins lawsuit against Texas over law limiting local authority

Illustration of a catapult loaded with a stack of lawsuit papers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The city of San Antonio joined Houston's lawsuit against Texas over a new state law that dismantles many local regulations, city officials announced Monday.

Driving the news: San Antonio supports Houston's argument that the law is unconstitutional, city attorney Andy Segovia tells Axios. The city argues that local elected officials are best positioned to represent city residents on local issues.

  • The new law is vague and leaves San Antonio open to lawsuits that taxpayers would bear the cost for, Segovia says.

Catch up fast: The law will strip local governments' ability to make certain rules and regulations under eight codes of government: agriculture, business and commerce, finance, insurance, labor, natural resources, occupations and property.

  • It empowers residents and businesses to sue cities if they think a local regulation extends beyond its authority.
  • The law is set to take effect Sept. 1.

What they're saying: Mayor Ron Nirenberg says state lawmakers overstepped their authority.

  • "We do not intend to meekly surrender our community's right to self-govern," Nirenberg said in a statement. "City Council members — chosen by local voters — work with residents in their neighborhoods and understand their community's needs and issues far more than lawmakers in Austin."
  • When city residents disagree with an action the City Council takes, they have remedies to respond, including their vote in local elections, Nirenberg says.

The other side: Supporters of the law say it's necessary to prevent a patchwork of local regulations to make it easier for businesses to operate across the state.

  • "This decision is short-sighted and ignores the needs of businesses in San Antonio and around Texas," District 10 Councilmember Marc Whyte said of the city's move to sue. Whyte is the only San Antonio councilmember to publicly support the law.
  • The law "will keep city governments focused on city issues rather than trying to legislate on issues that the state regulates," Whyte says.

The big picture: The law is the latest instance of the fights that play out between Democratic Texas cities and the Republican Legislature.

Why it matters: The law targets more than a century of cities' home rule authority in Texas, Segovia says. Home rule, granted by the Texas Constitution, essentially gives cities the power to govern themselves, implementing anything that is not specifically counter to state law.

Zoom in: Segovia declined to list city ordinances challenged by the new state law, saying its language is too ambiguous to pinpoint specifics.

  • The city does not plan to take ordinances off the books after the law takes effect. Instead, officials will wait to see whether the city is sued over specific regulations, Segovia says.

State of play: The San Antonio City Council had been considering an ordinance to require rest breaks for construction workers amid extreme heat this summer, similar to existing rules in Austin and Dallas. But the new state law likely prevents those measures.

  • San Antonio pared down its plan after Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law.

Zoom out: The city of Austin is also considering legal action over the state law.

What's next: Nirenberg says the City Council is still going to address issues with local governance and will move forward with any ordinances despite the "chilling effect" of the law and the possibility of lawsuits against the city.

  • A hearing is set for Aug. 17. The city hopes to have a ruling before the law is set to take effect, Segovia tells Axios.

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