A Texas state judge has shot down an expansive new law that would override cities’ authority to make their own laws, declaring it unconstitutional Wednesday.
House Bill 2127, which opponents have dubbed the “Death Star Bill,” would prevent cities from passing and enforcing local rules in several major policy areas without state authorization. That includes matters such as minimum wages and worker protections.
The measure was set to take effect Friday. The cities of Houston, San Antonio and El Paso challenged the law, saying it was far too vague and broad.
They also claimed it violated the state constitution, which grants “the full power of self-government” to cities.
“The Court declares House Bill 2127 in its entirety is unconstitutional — facially, and as applied to Houston as a constitutional home rule city,” State District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble wrote in her ruling.
The ruling was celebrated by the cities and Democratic advocates, who have argued the law is intended to shut down progressive policies.
“I am thrilled that Houston, our legal department, and sister cities were able to obtain this victory for Texas cities,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) said in a statement. “HB 2127 was a power grab by the Legislature and an unwarranted and unconstitutional intrusion into local power granted to Houston and other home-rule cities by the Texas Constitution.”
“HB 2127 was intended to mire large cities like Houston in endless litigation at taxpayer expense as cities and businesses struggle to discern what HB 2127 meant. As a former legislator, I am appalled by this assault on federalism and Texas cities,” he continued.
The measure was sponsored by Republican lawmakers and marked the most expansive attempt by Texas’s GOP-majority Legislature to limit the authority of the state’s major metropolitan areas, most of which are run by Democrats.
“The judgment today by a Democrat Travis County District Judge is not worth the paper it’s printed on,” sponsor Rep. Dustin Burrows (R) said after the ruling. “The Texas Supreme Court will ultimately rule this law to be completely valid. The ruling today has no legal effect or precedent, and should deter no Texan from availing themselves of their rights when HB2127 becomes law on September 1, 2023.”
The cities complained the law would prevent them from passing time-critical measures, including emergency regulations relating to hurricanes, for example, without the permission of the state Legislature. The Texas state Legislature only meets every other year.
It is unclear exactly which local ordinances would be thrown out if the preemption bill were to go into effect, but the bill text states that laws providing eviction protections and mandating paid sick leave are among those that would be off the books.
City leaders said the law’s vagueness would nearly guarantee lengthy legal cases over what is and is not covered, if it were to go into effect.