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A Potential Showdown Between Cities And The State Over Equal Rights

The 2017 state legislative session will include another attempt to nullify LGBT non-discrimination laws in cities across Texas.


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The state can generally strike down city ordinances that it doesn't like.

But local laws that offer protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity could prove to be an exception.

Under the concept of home rule, cities in Texas with a population of at least 5,000 are allowed to enact pretty much any law they want.

"But that ordinance can be overridden, not only by the state and federal constitutions, but also by any law enacted by the legislature that can preempt the ordinance and, essentially, keep it from going into effect," says South Texas College of Law-Houston professor Charles "Rocky" Rhodes.

One recent example of the state preempting a local ordinance was Denton's fracking ban. In 2015, the governor signed a bill forbidding cities from regulating oil and gas drilling. Denton rescinded the fracking ban, and that was that.

This time, there's a senate bill that would strike down city non-discrimination laws covering any groups not already protected by state or federal laws.

Senate Bill 92, sponsored by Republican Bob Hall, does not explicitly mention LGBT Texans, but Professor Rhodes believes it could be argued in court that that they are the target.

"(That's) because the state law would be based, or could be based, on animus or disapproval of gays and lesbians and not any legitimate state need," Rhodes said — adding that the U.S. Supreme Court used that reasoning when it ruled 20 years ago that the state of Colorado could not strike down local non-discrimination ordinances.

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David Pitman

David Pitman

Host & Announcer

David was HPM's local Morning Edition host from 2009 to 2020 — when he was moved to the position of Technical Director of Houston Matters with Craig Cohen, and Town Square with Ernie Manouse. David has extensive public and commercial broadcast journalism and production experience dating back to 1993 –...

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