Reducing city regulations on agenda for Texas Special Session

Bills on Special Session agenda take aim at how cities handle business

AUSTIN - One Texas city constantly tops lists as being one of the best places to live, work and play. But despite its appeal, it seems Texas' governor isn't a fan of the way Austin does things.

"Some local governments, like the City of Austin, are doing everything they can to over-regulate," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said last month while announcing a Special Session. "In the process, they are stifling our economy, interfering with job creation and undermining private property rights."

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Austin's economy, while slowing, is maintaining it's ranking as one of the best in the country with steady job growth and an unemployment rate lower than the state's.

Nonetheless, Abbott wants lawmakers to rein in local government when they return to the Texas State Capitol for the Special Session.

"I'm calling for legislation that reduces, restricts and prohibits local regulations," Abbott said.

Specifically, Abbott wants legislation prohibiting cities from telling property owners what they can do with trees on private land. Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) and Rep. Paul Workman (R), who represents parts of Austin, plan to write that legislation.

Abbott is also calling on lawmakers to pass a bill preventing local governments for changing rules during construction projects. Senator Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway) and Representative Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) will author that bill.

He's also asking for a new law to speed up permitting requirements. Workman will author that legislation with the help of Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville).

Abbott also said he plans to give new life to a bill by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) to limit annexation by cities. Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) will help write the bill.

Austin leaders said they're used to criticism from the Capitol.

"This isn't about policy. This isn't about making the lives of Texans better. This is just about reelections and primary races and politics," said Austin City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan (District 6). "And that's not what Texans are electing them to go to the legislature to do."

Flannigan said some surrounding cities have tree ordinances that are more strict than Austin. He added Austin already grandfathers construction requirements and in order to speed up permitting, the city needs more staff.

"The governor and the lieutenant governor and the legislature often wants to have it both ways. They want to force us to do things in a certain way and then prevent us from raising the money to do it better," Flannigan said, referring to the spending and property tax caps that are also on the Special Session Call.

The Special Session starts July 18.

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