A Texas law that prohibits cities and counties from passing a host of local regulations was declared unconstitutional by a Travis County judge on Wednesday. The decision is a major victory for Texas’ Democratic cities and the concept of local control.
House Bill 2127, dubbed Texas’ “Death Star” law by critics, was set to take effect September 1. It requires local governments to get permission from the state legislature before passing regulations that go beyond what state law permits, specifically in the areas of business; labor; agriculture; finance; insurance; property; local government; and natural resources.
The law was passed by Texas’ Republican legislature in May, in response to the growing power of progressive cities like Houston and Austin. Among its many impacts, House Bill 2127 would have eliminated local ordinances requiring 10-minute water breaks for construction workers every four hours.
In her ruling, State District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble found that the bill violated the Texas Constitution's Home Rule provision, which allows cities and counties the right to self-govern. The law’s vague language would also complicate enforcement, the judge said.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who had filed a lawsuit against the state, issued the following statement Wednesday:
I am thrilled that Houston, our legal department, and sister cities were able to obtain this victory for Texas cities. HB 2127 was a power grab by the Legislature and an unwarranted and unconstitutional intrusion into local power granted to Houston and other home-rule cities by the Texas Constitution. HB 2127 was intended to mire large cities like Houston in endless litigation at taxpayer expense as cities and businesses struggle to discern what HB 2127 meant. As a former legislator, I am appalled by this assault on federalism and Texas cities.
Home-rule cities like Houston, San Antonio, and El Paso have long been the drivers of the State's vibrant economy. The Governor's and Legislature's ongoing war on such home-rule cities hurts the State and its economy, discourages new transplants from other states, and thwarts the will of Texas voters who endowed these cities in the Texas Constitution with full rights to self-government and local innovation. This self-defeating war on cities needs to end.
While Houston realizes our battle with the State is not over, I will do all I can during my remaining term to ensure that Houstonians govern Houstonians. I hope my successor will do the same.
Texas plans to appeal the ruling, which would send the issue to the state’s conservative supreme court.
Just before the decision, Gov. Greg Abbott offered this defense of the law on X:
Texas small businesses are the backbone of our economy. Burdensome regulations are an obstacle to their success. I signed HB2127 to cut red tape & help businesses thrive.
In other words, we need big government to protect small government… or something.