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Texas Legislature Considers Bills Limiting Power Of Cities To Enact Laws

The “Home Rule” provision in the state’s constitution allows municipal ordinances that don’t conflict with state or federal law. But lawmakers in Austin have the power to trump them.

State lawmakers this session will consider bills to limit the power of cities to enact certain laws.

Those local ordinances include bans on hydraulic fracturing, using plastic bags at stores, and LGBT non-discrimination ordinances. The effort to rein in local ordinances is a reaction to what Governor Greg Abbott has called the “California-zation” of Texas.

That sentiment is echoed by Republican State Representative Matt Shaheen of Plano. He co-authored a House bill this session that would prohibit cities from adopting non-discrimination protections not already covered by state law. In Shaheen’s view, cities exist to provide basic services – like infrastructure – and nothing else.

“The state of Texas didn’t put cities in place to start playing around with these social-type agendas,” said Shaheen, a recent guest on Houston Matters. “So if you want to see where a ‘nanny state’ is happening, it’s more at the local level with these types of ordinances.”

150226-greg-abbott-photo-credit-Richard-Carson.pngTexas Governor Greg Abbott.

But cities with a population of 5,000 or more – and a charter – are known, under the Texas constitution, as “Home Rule” cities.

“They have full power to enact any ordinance that they feel is in their best local interest,” said Charles “Rocky” Rhodes, a professor of constitutional law at South Texas College of Law.

The “Home Rule” provision allows city laws that don’t conflict with state or federal law. But lawmakers in Austin do have the power to trump city ordinances – sometimes.

“If the state legislature wants to adopt a general law, with respect to ‘plastic bags are authorized to be used everywhere in the state’ or ‘fracking is authorized to be used everywhere in the state,’ you can debate the policy of that,” Rhodes said. “But there’s no question that the Texas Legislature has the authority to do that.”

However, that probably wouldn’t work with gay and lesbian rights.

“An effort by the state legislature to similarly ban local ordinances protecting LGBT might be viewed under federal law, under the federal constitution, as an invalid form of discrimination based on sexual orientation,” the professor said.

In 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the state of Colorado could not block cities such as Denver, Boulder, and Aspen from enacting their own laws to protect gays from discrimination. Professor Rhodes says that precedent would likely keep Texas from doing the same thing.

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David Pitman

Host, Morning Edition

Hi there. I’m glad you found me. Let me take a moment to answer some of the questions you might have about me and my job. I have worked as Morning Edition Host and reporter at News 88.7 since August of 2009. Previously, I hosted Morning Edition at WMFE in...

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