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Texas Senate passes bill that would expand state authority, shrink local control

Some local organizations and elected officials have criticized HB 2127, saying it strips away existing worker protections.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Senate on Monday passed a bill to prevent cities and counties from passing or enforcing any local policy that exceeds minimum requirements set by state laws.

If House Bill 2127 is signed into law, it would nullify some rules made to protect workers.

According to The Texas Tribune, the legislation would overturn any existing regulation that conflicts with it. Opponents say the bill would wipe out mandated water breaks for construction workers in some cities and water-use restrictions during droughts. They warn that local governments would no longer be able to combat predatory lending or invasive species, regulate excessive noise or enforce nondiscrimination ordinances. 

The bill's language states that its intention is to "provide statewide consistency" by returning sovereign regulatory powers to the State. But some local organizations and elected officials have criticized HB 2127. 

"The Texas Legislature is once again proving that the Republican Party is not the party of local control," Austin City Councilmember Jose “Chito” Vela (District 4) told KVUE. "This bill threatens local citizens’ way of life in so many ways – it threatens our sick leave mandate, our no-kill animal shelter practices, our tenant protections, our worker protections and our LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance. It is contrary to the rights of home rule cities and the will of the democratically elected people of those cities."

On Twitter, Councilmember Vanessa Fuentes (District 2) called HB 2127 a "wolf in sheep's clothing."

"It’s disguised as a measure for consistency when, in reality, it seeks to undermine local governance. The state has FAILED to fulfill its responsibility to govern, leaving municipalities to address crucial public policies," Fuentes posted. "It is our responsibility as local policymakers to protect our constituents' rights & safety. This super preemption bill undermines and chips away at our hard-fought progress, leaving our working families exposed and vulnerable."

She went on to say that the Legislature seems "more interested in stripping away local authority rather than focusing on issues that truly matter, such as ensuring the safety of our kids, expanding access to health care, and adequately funding our public education system."

The Texas AFL-CIO, a state labor federation, slammed the Senate's move in a press release on Monday. The group said in part  the bill would "destroy ordinances and rules and prevent future ones on worker rights, workplace safety, consumer protection, and much more."

Rick Levy, president of AFL-CIO, added that he believes eliminating local ordinances like safety training and rest breaks for construction workers is "not only cruel but dangerous."

"There are so few protections for workers in this state," Levy said. “We are the deadliest state to work in. The Legislature has no business actively stripping away what protections we have and further threatening our health and safety.”

But supporters of the bill have said local regulations create a patchwork of different rules across the state that can weigh heavy on business owners and ultimately harm the state's economy.

State Sen. Brandon Creighton, who is carrying the bill in the upper chamber, said on Monday that HB 2127 is about reining in city leaders that exceed their authority.

"Our businesses are panicking, coming in to our hearings and calling in to our offices saying we have to lay people off," Creighton said. "We cannot keep up with the compliance differences up and down [Interstate Highway] 35 alone in the different municipalities that have set these different ordinances."

HB 2127 did not receive a complete party line vote. Republican State Sen. Robert Nichols told KVUE he voted against the bill simply because he spent nine years as a councilmember and the mayor of Jacksonville, Texas, respectively.

Former Travis County judge and now sate senator, Sarah Eckhardt, spoke ahead of Tuesday's final vote. She said local leaders need the ability to pass regulations to keep their communities safe.

"When we are silent and the locals step in – because we've failed to act – this bill will tie their hands and even punish them for attempting to pick up our slack," Eckhardt said.

If Gov. Greg Abbott signs HB 2127, it will take effect on Sept. 1.

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