City of Houston files suit against Texas over 'Death Star' bill in local governance fight

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Tuesday, July 4, 2023
Houston files suit against Texas over 'Death Star' bill
The city of Houston filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas over House Bill 2127, which gives back power to the state over certain local laws.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- It's not exactly the Rebel Alliance attempting to raid the Death Star, but the city of Houston wants to challenge the state of Texas over a law that critics unofficially named after the Star Wars planet destroyer.

House Bill 2127, which detractors unflatteringly called the "Death Star" Bill, bars cities and counties from passing regulations and overturns existing ones that go further than state law. The language of the bill, which Gov. Greg Abbot signed in June, allows for the state to take on city ordinances in areas like labor, agriculture, natural resources, and finance.

On Monday, just fewer than two months from the Texas Regulatory Consistency Act taking effect on Sept. 1, the city of Houston, which stands to be among the hardest hit cities impacted, announced it is filing a lawsuit to have HB 2127 "declared unconstitutional, void, and unenforceable."

Reversing a century of state law

At the heart of HB 2127 is preemption, which, according to the city, is a "constitutional doctrine by which our judiciary carefully considers and determines in rare instances that state law displaces conflicting local law, finding there is no possibility that State and local law can coexist."

The Death Star Bill, also known as the "Super" Preemption Bill, redefines preemption by repealing Texas constitutional home rule, which gives cities like Houston "the power of self-government, permitting them to tailor their laws specifically to address local residents' and businesses' needs and desires."

"Not only is preemption given a new meaning, this legislation disregards the hierarchy of Texas laws where a statute such as HB 2127 cannot repeal a constitutional provision. Our laws require a constitutional amendment election to effect a repeal," the city wrote.

It's under HB 2127 that a mandatory water break law in Dallas and Austin, for example, can be repealed.

"HB 2127 reverses over 100 years of Texas constitutional law without amending the Constitution. Because Texas has long had the means to preempt local laws that conflict with State law, HB 2127 is unnecessary, dismantling the ability to govern at the level closest to the people and therefore punishing all Texas residents," Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement. "Houston will fight so its residents retain their constitutional rights and have immediate local recourse to government."

What supporters and other opponents claim

The bill's backers argue it's needed to combat what they call a growing patchwork of local regulations that make it difficult for business owners to operate and harm the state's economy. Texas' economic growth and jobs are overwhelmingly concentrated in the state's urban areas.

"We want those small-business owners creating new jobs and providing for their families, not trying to navigate a byzantine array of local regulations that twist and turn every time they [cross city limits]," state Rep. Dustin Burrows, the Lubbock Republican carrying the bill in the House, said in May.

Other than the city of Houston, Democrats, local leaders, advocates for low-income workers, and environmental oppose what they're calling a "radical attack on our democracy and on the voices of local voters across our state."

"Texas is unique and our communities are diverse," Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, said. "A cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach simply does not work for our vast and complex state."

Late Monday afternoon, Burrows weighed in on the legal challenges against his bill, blasting the involvement of Local Solutions Support Center - a California organization that bills itself as a national hub to counter state laws that undermine local governments' ability to self-govern - in the lawsuit.

"I am not surprised that leftist cities are working with activists from California to try and slow down the implementation [HB 2127]," Burrows tweeted. "I have confidence this bill will become law, and help ensure Texas' economy thrives for future generations."

The Texas Tribune contributed to this report.