Crafted by state Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), the bill aims to create a statewide, uniform set of regulations for businesses, which Burrows says have been hurt by a patchwork of local rules.
Broadly speaking, the bill would achieve that goal by wiping out local governments’ ability to set rules beyond what the state already specifies on issues related to agriculture, business and commerce, finance, insurance, labor, occupations, property, local government and natural resources.
Thursday’s [San Antonio City Council] committee meeting offered a first glimpse at how HB 2127 might play out for cities that could soon be responsible for its implementation.
Required breaks and other heat-related mandates some council members want to create in San Antonio for construction workers are exactly the kind of regulations HB 2127 was intended to stop, after city-led efforts like paid sick leave ordinances became popular in recent years. Labor groups have labeled the pending legislation the “Death Star Bill” because they consider it so wide-ranging and powerful.
The bill’s supporters cite other progressive-led city initiatives HB 2127 would have also thwarted, such as bans on plastic bags, which other municipalities have sought to implement. The legal concept under which such laws are applied is known as preemption.
The legislation marks the latest incursion in a years-long effort by the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature to chip away at the ability of Democratic-led big cities to govern themselves.
Unlike narrower past efforts, however, city officials are not yet sure how far-ranging the effects of HB 2127 will be and how much of their past work will be undone.
“If the bill [becomes law] … [does] that mean that everything we’ve done [on this committee], including, for instance, proactive apartment inspection … would be out the door?” Rocha Garcia asked Assistant City Attorney Jameene Williams, who said she could not yet provide an answer.
Since HB 2127’s initial committee hearing, which featured testimonies from San Antonio, Houston and Dallas officials, begging lawmakers to use caution on such a dramatic change, proponents of the bill say it’s been tweaked to mitigate cities’ confusion and angst.
One amendment added during the Senate floor vote added language saying cities can recoup their legal fees if they’re sued for maintaining an ordinance in conflict with the law and the lawsuit is deemed frivolous. Another removed language saying city officials could be held liable for violations of the law, in addition to the municipalities.
Other amendments proposed by Senate Democrats aimed at labor protections failed.
The number of state codes that would be preempted by the bill has also changed, from six in the initial draft to a total of nine.
“As [with] most bills that are so controversial when they first get started, there was a little bit tweaking here and there,” said Rod Bordelon, a regulatory attorney and scholar for the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, which supports HB 2127. “But substantively, I think the bill as passed … is pretty closely related to what was filed originally.”
State law gives cities explicit authority over many issues within the codes the bill seeks to preempt — authority that cities would maintain even if the bill becomes law. For example, the local government code gives cities permission to regulate fireworks, zoning and law enforcement.
That means cities would still be able to regulate many issues within the nine codes the legislation preempts, but city attorneys would need to examine all new and existing ordinances on a case-by-case basis to ensure they wouldn’t violate the new law.
“It’s the subject matter within that code that we’d have to look at,” Williams told the council committee Thursday. “So it’s not an automatic preemption of all of our ordinances that fall under that particular code. We’d have to look at the substance of the ordinances.”
While city leaders say that’s an overwhelming burden on their resources, proponents of the bill say they’re simply shifting the burden of compliance to the city instead of businesses.
“If the City of San Antonio issues an ordinance and that seems to be in conflict with state law or other ordinances around the state, then [private businesses] are having to sit down with their lawyers and compliance specialists and figure out what do they need to do in each one of these jurisdictions,” said Bordelon.
See here for some background. The short answer to all this is that it will be sorted out, over the course of years, by the courts. There may be revisions made to this law, if certain aspects of it are found to be unworkable or not what the authors intended, in a future legislative session. Maybe someday, in a Democratic Texas, it will be repealed, or at least largely rolled back. Until then, every city is going to have to ask these questions and get their lawyers to do this research before they take action on a whole host of things. And that, I assure you, was the point.