On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott named Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, and Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, as the authors of legislation that would seek to supersede all local ordinances regulating the use of mobile devices in vehicles. In the regular session, the legislature passed House Bill 62, which bans texting-while-driving statewide under certain circumstances.
While this ban blankets the state, local ordinances are still in effect, and can sometimes be more stringent than the state regulation. For instance, in the city of Austin, drivers are prohibited from using any electronic hand-held device. Under the newly signed Texas law, drivers are still permitted to use GPS and to send text messages in emergency situations.
"Across the state of Texas, we’re currently micromanaging drivers with a confusing and inconsistent mix of local ordinances," Huffines said. "The rules of the road should be consistent across our great state, which is why we must get local regulators’ hands off of hands-free ordinances."
Original story posted at 3:19 p.m. on June 28
Ever since Gov. Greg Abbott announced the 20 items that would be taken up during the coming special session, pundits have been speculating who would be responsible for each individual bill.
Abbott has answered the majority of the lingering questions, announcing before any bills can even be filed who will take up the charge for specific issues. These legislators will be responsible for shepherding legislation that has been greatly critiqued for having the potential to usurp local control.
After announcing the Legislature should target local tree ordinances, Abbott revealed his own personal experience with them in a June radio interview.
"I wanted to cut down a common pecan tree in my yard, and the city of Austin told me, no, I could not cut it down, and I had to pay money to the city of Austin to add more trees to my yard because I wanted to cut down one very common tree that was in a bad location," he said.
On Wednesday, Abbott announced Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, and Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, would be tackling the issue come July. Workman argued residents' freedoms are eroded by local governments' overreach through burdensome policies such as tree ordinances.
Hall said these types of ordinances contradict property rights.
"Local tree ordinances blatantly violate individual property rights by saying that you don't actually own or control natural resources on property that you have purchased," Hall said.
Expedited and construction permitting process
Abbott said the permitting process allows individual cities to manipulate projects by prolonging the build timeline and spiking costs. Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, and Workman will shepherd related legislation.
"If Texas' political subdivisions insist on robust permitting processes before development can occur in our state, then we must ensure that the process is efficient and completed in a timely manner," Burton said.
Workman directly addressed the city of Austin, saying it uses police power to make businesses comply with a "socialist agenda." He said the city should set an expectation of expedited permitting, rather than a two-year process, which Workman says is common now.
Abbott also announced Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Austin, and Rep. Cecil Bell Jr., R-Magnolia, will be responsible for legislation that prohibits the changing of property development rules in the middle of construction projects.
Abbott said this would prevent local governments from taking away property rights after someone had already purchased land.
"We have all seen or heard about those nightmarish situations where a property owner is confronted by a city ordinance that changes what they can do with their property," Bell said.
The governor tapped Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, and Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, for legislation that imposes spending caps on municipalities. The only details Abbott has released is that the legislation will limit spending to growth in population plus inflation.
"The bill I will be filing during the special session will rein in irresponsible spending by local elected officials and grant the taxpayers with the ultimate authority to make the final call on government growth that exceeds that of growth plus inflation," Villalba said. "If we can get our spending under control, then we can lower property taxes, which most everyone in Dallas is asking for."
Last Thursday, Abbott announced Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, and Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, would file legislation related to the municipal annexation process. During the regular session, Campbell supported legislation that would require the approval vote of individuals living on annexed land before a city could officially complete the process. The bill was filibustered in the Senate before a crucial deadline, thus killing the bill.
Abbott again made an attack on cities, saying the current process takes away residents' input.
"Cities that annex property without the approval from those affected is piracy by government, and it must end," Abbott said.
Abbott has named the authors of legislation for 12 of his 20 priority items. He has yet to announce authors for bills related to the must-pass sunset legislation and bills related to teacher pay raises, education retention and recruitment, school finance reform, school choice for special needs students, rollback elections for property tax increases, local ordinances regarding texting-while-driving bans and bans on using taxpayer dollars to collect union dues.
No bills can be filed until Abbott makes a special proclamation. The special session is set to start July 18, in less than three weeks.