City Bashing Week at the Texas Capitol

City bashing week at the Texas Legislature

Original photo by: Al Braden

By Cyrus Reed

Last week was a city bashing week at the legislature. 

In other words, bills to fundamentally strip away basic rights of municipal government (and in some cases other governmental entities) were heard in both the Senate and House. Make no mistake, these were radical bills that seek to remove local authority on many issues. Sierra Club was there in opposition, in addition to dozens of allies from labor, faith, democracy, conservation, and many other organizations, along with representatives of local government. Nevertheless, political leadership seems bent on passing something. 

It was a dizzying display of the power of the state to try and fundamentally undermine democracy and the rights of cities to set their own course. 

First, on Monday, Sen. Mayes Middleton introduced SB 175, which would prevent cities and counties from using taxpayer dollars (which are the only dollars available to them) to hire outside lobbyists or even support associations like the Texas Municipal League or the Texas Association of Counties. In other words, if the bill becomes law, cities and counties would only rely on their mayors or government relations staff to represent them. In a session where more than 8,000 bills are being discussed in a 140-day period, preventing local governments from having adequate representation like every other interest group is mean spirited. See our testimony here.

Second, in the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, Sen. Brian Birdwell laid out his bill SB 1017, which would strip away the ability of cities to regulate energy sources (think gas stations) and engines (think motor vehicles or lawn equipment). While the committee substitute does make some improvements in the bill, Sierra Club (along with Public Citizen) spoke out against the bill. We are working with the City of Dallas - which has some proposed regulations to limit the use of leaf blowers and other lawn equipment - on some improvements to the bill, since it will be difficult to stop. Our testimony can be found here

That same day, a far worse bill (SB 149) by Sen. Drew Springer was heard. This bill would declare that cities can’t regulate anything that involves commerce unless they have a unique local issue and unless they can prove it. It gets worse. The bill only grants cities powers that the legislature has specifically granted them, essentially stripping things away like local ordinances on payday loan ordinances and pawn shop lending. This is a radical and dangerous bill. Read our testimony here.

Then the next day, a bill by Rep. Cody Harris, which would make it virtually impossible for citizens or cities to use nuisance law, was introduced and discussed in one committee, even as hundreds of people packed the room over in the House Committee on State Affairs, most of them in opposition to HB 2127 by Rep. Burrows. That bill would radically remove all city ordinances involving eight different suites of statutes, and only allow home rule cities (i.e. the largest 300+ cities) to do stuff that the Legislature has told them they can. Hours of impassioned debate did not seem to sway the author of the bill, heavily supported by fat cat lobbyists and business associations. You can see our written testimony on HB 1372 (Harris) here and HB 2127 (Burrows) here

Beating… or at least making the bills less worse… will be a major focus of the Sierra Club lobby team as we align with local government to preserve our democracy and the many hours our volunteers have put into important local ordinances on everything from community gardens, to invasive species, to cave protection and to supporting allies on issues like construction worker breakers and better building programs.