Texas Republicans Move Closer to Stripping Power from Democratic Cities

Republican leaders in Texas have moved one step closer to limiting the ability of Democratic-led cities and counties to implement progressive policies. This comes after the Texas Senate gave preliminary approval to House Bill 2127, backed by Gov. Greg Abbott and business lobbying groups. The bill seeks to prevent cities and counties from enforcing local ordinances that go beyond what is already allowed under state law. Broad sections such as labor, agriculture, natural resources, and finance would be covered by the legislation.

The bill would also deny the ability of local governments to combat predatory lending or invasive species, regulate excessive noise levels, and enforce nondiscrimination ordinances. The power to regulate water usage during droughts would also be revoked. Opponents of the bill claim that it represents an undemocratic takeover of local governance. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg called it “the most undemocratic thing the Legislature has done” and suggested that the bill would take away decision-making power from local voters.

The bill’s supporters argue that it would help small businesses by giving them consistency and certainty when investing. The bill is so broadly written that no one knows precisely how much it could limit local government’s power to make rules. Lawmakers anticipate that businesses may contest ordinances they dislike in the courts, leaving local leaders powerless to address problems within their own areas. Democrats predict that the Legislature will have to revisit the issue in the future to rein in unintended consequences of the law.

The bill would overturn any existing regulations in conflict with it. Opposition parties have tried to add amendments to the legislation to protect fair chance hiring policies and mandatory water breaks for construction workers. However, all of the amendments have failed. The bill is expected to escalate the trend in Texas of eroding the power of large urban areas controlled by Democrats over the past decade.

Recent moves by the Legislature have seen local governments lose the ability to regulate fracking within their limits, raise property taxes above a certain amount each year, and cut police spending without voter approval. Republicans and business groups have particularly opposed local ordinances that seek to give workers greater benefits than those allowed under state law, such as mandatory paid sick leave.

Despite the protests of labor groups and critics, the bill is likely to be passed and become law. Although it may be rephrased to contain fewer ambiguities and loopholes. It is expected to cause problems for Democratic areas run by city and county administrations that will be forced to come to Austin for permission to act. Extreme state officials who have previously voiced their opposition to worker protection measures could deny local governments the ability to solve problems locally.

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