Bill curbing power from cities approved by Texas House

A broad local government preemption bill passed the Texas House after hours of debate on the floor Tuesday and a swifter discussion Wednesday.

House Bill (HB) 2127 by Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) lays out nine different sections of code within which municipalities may not establish regulations above what the state permits. This strategy is called “field preemption,” preempting local actions in whole sections of code proactively rather than responding to individual instances of municipal regulations reactively.

“HB 2127 provides the regulatory stability and certainty that enables business owners to expand their businesses to other cities within Texas with more consistency,” Burrows said after final passage. “Texas thrives and jobs are created when onerous, burdensome regulations are lifted from the shoulders of small business owners.”

Under the bill, individuals or associations may sue localities and their officials for abridging the lines set by state code — the private cause of action enforcement mechanism that has become increasingly popular among the state’s Republicans after 2021’s Texas Heartbeat Act passed.

The bill passed by a vote of 92 to 55 with eight Democratic members in support: Reps. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg), Harold Dutton (D-Houston), Bobby Guerra (D-Mission), Tracy King (D-Uvalde), Oscar Longoria (D-Mission), Eddie Morales (D-Eagle Pass), Sergio Muñoz, Jr. (D-Palmview), and Richard Peña Raymond (D-Laredo).

Rep. Shawn Thierry’s (D-Houston) vote did not register but she clarified in the journal that she intended to vote against the bill.

The rest of the House Democratic Caucus spent five hours trying to amend, delay, and kill the bill.

In all, Democrats proposed 36 amendments, none of which passed. The first, offered by Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie), tried to strike the bill’s enacting clause, a maneuver that would have neutered the bill entirely.

The following 35 were a medley of carve-outs for various kinds of policies enacted by municipalities such as soil and water conservation policies, lunch and water break mandates, and prohibitions against “wage theft.”

Another by Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) attempted to eliminate the liability of elected officials under the proposal.

During the debate over most of these amendments, Democrats peppered Burrows with questions about what the bill would preempt and what it would permit, alleging that various local regulations already in place could be nixed by the state.

Burrows responded to most of those questions by citing sections of code that already permit local regulation; the bill would prohibit localities from exceeding the regulation allowed in those sections.

Two amendments did get adopted, both of which were offered by Republicans.

Burrows’ amendment reduced the venue scope in which an offending locality may be sued under the bill. The first version of the bill allowed for a suit to be brought in any county in the state, which was then narrowed to the county of origin or an adjacent county in committee, which has now been narrowed to just the county of origin.

A second amendment by Rep. Kronda Thimesch (R-Denton) added language to stipulate that massage establishment regulations would not be affected by the bill’s preemption measures.

Democrats also called four points of orders — procedural maneuvers intended to kill a bill by pointing out some language or process deficiency — none of which landed.

Abbott weighed in on the issue shortly after HB 2127 passed.

“Predictable — Leave it to Unions with an assist by the [Houston] Chronicle, to label reducing regulations as a ‘Death Star,’” Abbott tweeted. “Fact is reducing regulations makes it easier for small businesses to succeed. This law will KEEP Texas #1 for business & create more jobs.”

Abbott endorsed Burrows’ bill at a National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) event in February.

NFIB’s Texas State Director Annie Spillman, whose organization has been lobbying in support of the bill profusely, said in a statement, “Our small businesses’ entrepreneurial spirit and resiliency has provided good-paying jobs for Texas families and hardworking men and women across our state.”

“But the current patchwork of regulations threatens to undermine our economic might. Mandates — no matter how well intended — make it harder to do business in our state.”

Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa criticized the bill this week, saying, “The millions of voters in counties like Dallas, Harris, Travis, and Bexar did not vote to have Republicans’ arch-conservative ideologies forced upon them.”

“But we disagree with this bill on more than just the devastating substantive impacts it would have on some of Texas’ most economically industrious municipalities — we disagree with it on the principle as well.”

Burrows frequently said his intention behind the bill was to prevent the Legislature from continuing its “game of Whac-A-Mole,” slapping down individual instances of “excessive regulations” passed by municipalities.

Localities, unions, and progressive activists opposed the bill on the grounds that it would prohibit many of the contentious local regulations that big blue cities have passed in recent years — exactly the intent of the bill as expressed by Burrows.

The bill will now move to the Senate, having passed the chamber where similar, more tailored preemption bills died twice last session at the hands of Democrats.
Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher is the editor and publisher of High Plains Pundit. Dan is also the host of the popular High Plains Pundit Podcast.

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