Urban, suburban, rural Texas mayors condemn state Legislature’s overreach, support 'patchwork quilt' policy strategy

The 86th Texas legislative session includes several bills that would pre-empt local control.

The 86th Texas legislative session includes several bills that would pre-empt local control.

Overall, the Texas Municipal League, a nonpartisan group that advocates for Texas cities at the state Legislature, is fighting over 150 bills they said deteriorate municipalities’ ability to govern themselves, but on April 22, Executive Director Bennett Sandlin laid out what he said are the 10 worst offenders.

The bills ranged from the widely reported property tax revenue cap proposals, to the lesser-known loosening of building material restrictions and firefighter disciplinary proceedings. Sandlin highlighted a bill that would pre-empt cities’ local ordinances applying to short-term rentals, businesses and tree protection. Other bills included a reduction in fees charged to telecom companies to use public right of way and blocking lobbyists who advocate on behalf of cities.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who joined Sandlin and Mayors Mary Dennis and Stephen Haynes of the suburban Live Oak and rural Brownwood, respectively, at a press conference the afternoon of April 22, continued his crusade against the state’s attacks on local control, especially focusing on the 2.5% or 3.5% property tax revenue cap proposal.

“This session is more focused on attacking cities than any session I can remember,” said Adler, who admitted Austin has a history of opposing state policy. “We have an assault that is being waged against all cities, not just one or two. These actions are untethered to sound public policies. Cities are in trouble.”

Dennis said she could not a name a top three out of the ten bills presented, claiming they were all bad.

“What we’re asking is, simply, we as elected officials, let us do the job we were elected to do—provide civil services to our cities,” Dennis said. “We’re able to do that because of the way the system is set. Why bother something that’s not broken?”

Haynes said the state’s pre-emption bills fail to take account of Texas’ vast geographic diversity and how that impacts the values and operation of its municipalities.

“What makes sense in [Texas’s big cities] won’t make sense in our rural markets because our issues are different; our personalities are different; our values are different,” Haynes said. “These pre-emption bills take all that away; it’s a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t make sense most often for the rural markets.”

Roughly 74% of the Texas population lives in a municipality; however, municipalities only make up 4% of Texas’ land area, Sandlin said. He said a "patchwork quilt" of state regulations is necessary for a state as vast as Texas.

"This idea that we ought to have uniformity among cities is really the opposite direction we should be going," Sandlin said. "This idea that one size ought to fit all makes no sense."

Haynes said most times, the blanket policies the Legislature often passes are adopted by the larger cities, and do not “at all” address the nuanced needs of smaller municipalities that are also legally bound to adopt them.

“Our voice in our government is being eroded daily,” Haynes said. “That’s why local control is so very, very, important in the state of Texas. We ought to be able to decide the issues in Brownwood, Texas, that directly affect our systems. Local control is critical. It’s a fundamental concept of liberty … [and] conservative values.”

Sandlin said the issue of local control is not only permeating politics in the Lone Star State, but has been trending in other statehouses across the country since 2015.

"All of my counterparts in other state [municipal] leagues are facing many of the same bills, sometimes identical down the comma," Sandlin said. 'National think tanks are pushing [saying] it's too much trouble to go city-by-city fighting regulations or even negotiating bills. Why not go to the statehouse and cut cities off [from the conversations]?"

Below are the 10 bills outlined by the Texas Municipal League as the “most harmful city-related bills.”

Revenue caps
Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 2 propose a property tax revenue increase cap of 3.5% and 2.5%, respectively. Cities across Texas have criticized the bill for placing economic pressure on municipal operations while providing minimal tax relief for property owners.

Telecom and cable franchise fees
SB 1152 and HB 3535 would mandate that cities reduce use of public right of way fees levied on cable and telecom companies. Texas Municipal League asserts it could cost municipalities millions of dollars in revenue.

Super pre-emption for business
HB 3899 would prohibit local regulation on businesses that operate in more than one Texas city. The bills would impact cities’ ability to regulate pay-day lenders, strip clubs or massage parlors, according to the Texas Municipal League.

Super pre-emption for occupations
HB 2847 would prohibit local regulation on any person or business who holds a related license with the state, such as driving instructors, audiologists or cosmetologists.

Anti-lobbying
SB 29 and HB 281 would prohibit cities spending tax dollars on lobbyist groups, such as the Texas Municipal League, to advocate on a city’s behalf at the Legislature.

Short-term rentals
HB 3778 would take regulation over short-term rentals away from local cities and turn it over to the state.

Annexation for smaller counties
HB 347 would go a step further than the 2017 version which restricted annexations by cities in counties with over 500,000 people. This latest version would restrict annexations for all Texas cities unless approved by the landowners of the area eyed for annexation.

Heritage tree protection
HB 969 would pre-empt local ordinances aimed at protecting urban trees, such as Austin’s ordinance that protects its heritage trees.

Deregulating building materials
HB 2439 would pre-empt local ordinances aimed at regulating building materials. If a building material is accepted by the international building code, it would be legal to use in all Texas cities.

Procedure for firefighter discipline
HB 1895 would make disciplining or firing firefighters more difficult by imposing a set of rules and procedures that is currently only required for cities with over 10,000 residents.
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


MOST RECENT

Legacy Community Health is bringing COVID-19 vaccines to historically underserved communities across Beaumont and Houston. (Courtesy Pexels)
Legacy Community Health vaccine rollout targets underserved communities in Houston, Beaumont

The health network is partnering with other entities, including Beaumont Independent School District.

HTV
Houston, Harris County annual addresses no longer hosted by Greater Houston Partnership over Texas voter bill dispute

Local leaders criticized the area chamber of commerce for not taking a definitive stance on two voting access bills currently being deliberated in the Texas Legislature.

The new location is Chipotle's first in Magnolia. (Courtesy Chipotle Mexican Grill)
Chipotle opens in Magnolia; get a sneak peek of new Houston aquarium and more metro news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

Palace Social is opening in June with eight bowling lanes, a 159-seat restaurant and a 3,900-square-foot arcade, among other offerings. (Courtesy Blkbox)
Palace Social to open in June as high-end bowling, entertainment concept

The former location of Palace Bowling Lanes on Bellaire Boulevard is being given new life.

The business specializes in customized in-home consultations during which families will receive a fire safety plan specific to their house's floor plan and an age-appropriate, individualized plan for each family member. (Courtesy Fire Smart, LLC)
Fire Smart, LLC celebrates one year of providing fire safety education across Greater Houston area

The business specializes in customized in-home consultations during which families will receive a fire safety plan specific to their house's floor plan and an age-appropriate, individualized plan for each family member.

Designs show the concept for the administration area of a new 32,000-square-foot campus being planned by Xavier Educational Academy. (Courtesy Xavier Educational Academy)
Xavier Educational Academy announces plans to combine campuses at 1 location near Arboretum

The private school currently operates at three campuses in West University, The Woodlands and Memorial. The new 32,000-square-foot campus will quadruple the available space.

3707 Sun Valley Drive, Houston: A recent construction, this home features a clean aesthetic with modern lines located in central Houston near the Texas Medical Center. Features a chef’s kitchen with an oversized island, luxury-brand appliances, a butler’s pantry, and a walk-in pantry. The kitchen adjoins the family room, which offers views to a roofed patio and a lawn beyond that. The home additionally features a primary suite with a spa-like bath and an oversized closet. 4 bed, 4 full and 1 half bath/4,101 sq. ft. Sold for $827,001-$947,000 on April 29. (Courtesy Houston Association of Realtors)
Bellaire-Meyerland-West University Place real estate: See some of the properties that sold in April 2021

Homes that sold in April in the Bellaire-Meyerland-West University Place area included ranch-style, contemporary and updated homes.

kiosk downtown
Updated: In close vote, digital kiosk proposal gets approval from Houston City Council

The potential contract between Ohio-based company IKE Smart City and the city of Houston would allow the media company to sell advertising space on dozens of 8-foot-tall digital kiosks while paying the city a portion of its commissions.

The Meyer Neighborhood Public Library has been closed since Hurricane Harvey. (Courtesy Houston Public Library)
Community asked to help name new library coming to Westbury, Meyerland area

Construction will begin on the new library later this year, and it could open by the end of 2022.

Events in May include an exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston journeying through the various technological innovations found in lighting devices. (Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Houston)
To-do list: 13 May events, exhibits and more in Bellaire-Meyerland-West University

From a virtual author conversation provided by Brazos Bookstore to children's bingo in Levy Park, to a virtual performance provided by the Houston Symphony, here are some of the events to check out in May in the Bellaire-Meyerland-West University area.

Van Leeuwen eyes May 8 opening of new Rice Village ice cream shop

Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, the nationally recognized brand known for its made-from-scratch dairy and vegan ice creams, will soon open its first Texas location at Rice Village.