I assume this has been appealed and thus the ruling is stayed for now, but in the meantime this is nice.
A Travis County state district judge on Wednesday struck down Texas’ “death star” law preempting local regulations as unconstitutional, dealing at least a temporary blow to state lawmakers who say it is necessary to provide a uniform environment for business.
Lawyers for Houston and other cities made a convincing case that the law is too vague, 459th Civil District Court Judge Judge Maya Guerra Gamble found after a nearly three-hour hearing in Austin.
The law was set to go into effect Friday. The hearing before Guerra Gamble came as the statute was poised, potentially, to overrule vast swaths of local rules, including ordinances in Austin and Dallas that require outdoor construction workers to receive regular water breaks.
In Houston, officials said they fear the law could kill the city’s “pay-or-play” ordinance, which requires contractors to pay into a fund for low-income health care if they do not provide health insurance to employees.
Collyn Ann Peddie, a lawyer for the city of Houston, urged the judge to act before the law goes into effect, claiming cities are at a loss as to how to comply with the law known as House Bill 2127.
“They’ve created absolute chaos, I think, with cities in trying to figure out what (House Bill) 2127 means. And the chaos in large part is the point,” Peddie said.
Houston was joined in court by lawyers for San Antonio and El Paso. Other cities, including Dallas, also had chimed in with briefs to the court.
Nobody seems able to say which local regulations the law will overrule and which it will not, Peddie said. Instead, cities are left to guess as to whether their regulations violate the law. They will be forced to wait for lawsuits to flood courthouses to find which rules can stand, she said.
Under the law, private citizens or trade associations can file lawsuits challenging local ordinances. Cities would be on the hook for legal fees if they lose.
“A large part of the intention here is to create uncertainty,” Peddie said, adding that it appeared the state hopes that cities “will simply give up or be deterred from regulation because it will be too risky for them to regulate at all.”
Separately, Peddie said, the “death star” law runs afoul of the Texas Constitution, which grants broad powers to home-rule cities like Houston. Those powers can be limited, but only on a case-by-case basis with “unmistakable clarity” from the legislature, Peddie said.
Peddie likened the preemption law to the Texas statute that allows private parties to file lawsuits against people alleged to have facilitated abortions.
“They are written in a vague way. They are enforced by a mob, and the intention is to get cities, particularly big cities like Houston, just to give up in disgust,” Peddie said.
See here, here, and here for some background. It appears that the hearing was yesterday and the judge made her ruling shortly thereafter by granting the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment. As noted above, I presume the state will (if it has not already) appeal to SCOTx, and by doing so put this ruling on hold. In this case at least the full effect will not be immediate, as the purpose of the law was to enable vigilantes to sue cities over ordinances deemed to be illegal as a result of the Death Star bill. (You can see where the vagueness argument comes from.) There may well be some litigation being prepped in advance of the law taking effect, but my guess is all of that will be put off until there’s a final judgment. The potential exists for a lot of future chaos, but in the here and now it may be more restrained. We’ll see. The Trib, the Chron, the Observer, and the Current have more.