Friday, 1 Mar 2024

Texas Judge Rejects State Law Aimed at Controlling Progressive Cities

The News

A Texas district court judge ruled on Wednesday that a new state law aimed at preventing cities from making local rules on a broad range of subjects — including requiring rest breaks for construction workers — was unconstitutional, siding with the leaders of Houston, San Antonio and other Texas cities who had challenged the law.

Why It Matters: The law was part of the struggle for control of Texas.

The law, known as House Bill 2127, was set to go into effect on Friday. Its passage this year was among the most aggressive steps yet taken by the Republican-dominated Legislature to exert control over the state’s increasingly progressive, Democratic-led cities.

The law would have prevented cities from enacting ordinances including those affecting labor, agriculture and natural resources, and was expected to nullify existing laws on everything from sanitation rules to the regulation of puppy mills. It was labeled “the Death Star” by its Democratic opponents because of its sweeping impact on the powers of cities to regulate themselves.

After its passage, the law gained national attention because it would have tossed out ordinances in Austin and Dallas requiring periodic rest breaks for construction workers — a change adopted as the state was experiencing a series of searing heat waves.

In a news conference on Wednesday, Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston called the judge’s ruling a “tremendous victory” for the people of Houston and other cities around Texas.

Background: Businesses liked the law. City leaders did not.

Business groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business, Republican lawmakers and Gov. Greg Abbott backed the law, which they dubbed the Regulatory Consistency Act, as a means of streamlining regulations and preventing companies from having to comply with a hodgepodge of different regulations in different parts of the state.

Labor groups, city leaders and Texas Democrats objected that it was instead a means of usurping local control at a time when cities in Texas were becoming increasingly progressive and adopting greater protections for workers and tenants.

In July, the City of Houston, joined by San Antonio and El Paso, filed suit against the State of Texas, arguing that the law was overly broad and violated the provisions of the State Constitution that give cities the power to make their own rules. City leaders said that because of the law’s sweeping language, they had yet to determine precisely which of their rules would be pre-empted by the measure, and which could still be enforced.

The Travis County judge hearing the case in Austin, Maya Guerra Gamble, agreed, finding that the law “in its entirety is unconstitutional” and granting the cities’ motion for summary judgment on Wednesday.

What’s Next: Rules on water breaks remain, for now.

The Texas attorney general was expected to appeal the decision. The case could eventually end up before the State Supreme Court, whose nine members are all Republican.

J. David Goodman is the Houston bureau chief, covering Texas. He has written about government, criminal justice and the role of money in politics for The Times since 2012. More about J. David Goodman

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