A handfull of state bills moving through the Texas Legislature aim to stifle the efforts of citizens to protect their environment, says Public Citizen. Photo courtesy of Texas Legislature.
April 9, 2023
Texas lawmakers don’t think Texans can make good decisions for themselves so they’re determined to take away citizens’ rights, says a North Texas-based government watchdog.
Rita Beving, a consultant to the democracy advocate group Public Citizen, is monitoring the 88th Texas Legislature. She says the laws first out of the shoot of the current legislative session all have to do with taking power away from Texas residents and setting up bureaucrats in Austin to decide what does or doesn’t happen in everyone’s counties, cities, neighborhoods and backyards.
The bills being considered, she says, strip power away from city councils, county governments, school boards and even HOAs and hand that power over to the legislators and the state. One proposed bill even makes it against the law, with hefty fines as penalties, for anyone to complain to a state agency more than three times.
The bills appear to be aimed at shooting down recent moves by local governments to clean up their air quality, restrict gas-powered drilling rigs around schools and hospitals, and get a handle on weekend house rentals in neighborhoods, among other matters that need local oversight.
“It's like we're becoming a state autocracy and the cities and counties are supposed to say Mother may I for anything they want to do,” Beving says.
Every two years during the state’s law-making session, elected Texas representatives meet at the state capitol in Austin to introduce thousands of bills that could become state law. Because only several hundred bills out of the thousands introduced are eventually passed during the brief few months that the lawmakers hash out details, whatever bills are first to be introduced reveal the legislature’s priorities and are most likely to be signed by the governor as state law, Beving says.
That bills of this nature have been introduced first speaks volumes about what the lawmakers want to accomplish, Beving adds.
Public Citizen has identified more than a dozen bills that it deems a threat to local, democratic control, many of which roll back Texans’ assurance that the water they drink and the air they breathe is safe.
BILLS THREATENING LOCAL CONTROL
Beving has shared her list of the top five egregious bills that Texas lawmakers are debating that threaten citizens rights to govern or take action to protect themselves.
This bill would disallow any county or city from creating an ordinance that regulates greenhouse gas emissions such as some of the measures in the climate plans currently adopted by Dallas, San Antonio and Houston.
Relating to the authority of a political subdivision to regulate the use or sale of a product for the purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition to invalidating a proposed ordinance in Dallas that would phase in the use of electric-powered lawn equipment by 2030, the bill could also affect cities like Arlington where drilling rigs within 600 feet of a school, a medical facility or other sensitive facility must be electric in order to mitigate noise levels and ground-level air pollution.
City residents would have no say over what kind of machinery is used within two football fields’s length of schools and hospitals. Legislators hundreds of miles away would keep that power for themselves.
If SB 1114’s intention was too vague, HB 744 and 764 spell out just how much city ordinances that phase in cleaner, quieter electric lawn equipment rub lawmakers the wrong way.
Relating to state preemption of certain municipal and county regulation.
This bill is considered the holy grail of all local control kill bills. Hidden in the innocuous summary of HB 2127 is almost a total nullification of a city’s or county’s existing or future ordinances or regulation within these codes: natural resources, agriculture, occupations, finance, insurance, labor, business and commerce, local government and property. The bill would also enable anyone to sue local governments for codes and ordinances that they contest.
“This would mean negating not only the ordinances we're developing or have on the books regarding environmental issues, but this is far reaching,” Beving says. “For instance, Dallas and Austin have passed an ordinance where construction workers are to get a 10-minute water break — something that is for public health and safety. This bill could negate that and allow construction companies to file suit against cities or counties.”
HB 2127/SB 814 is considered the holy grail of all local control kill bills. Hidden in the innocuous summary of HB 2127 is almost a total nullification of a city’s or county’s existing or future ordinances or regulation within these codes: natural resources, agriculture, occupations, finance, insurance, labor, business and commerce, local government and property.
The bill would also negate recent attempts by city councils to regulate the growing number of AirBnB and short-term rental properties popping up in cities and that have led to weekend party houses bringing noise, traffic, drugs and crime into otherwise quiet neighborhoods.
“Just last January in Plano, a prostitution ring at a short-term rental was busted up,” Bevings says about the pressing need for cities to have a way to monitor AirBnB and other industries in their city limits. “The lawsuits from reckless and unethical business owners and individuals would come pouring in if this bill passes,” Beving adds.
5. SB 471
Relating to the imposition of a fee by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for the investigation of certain complaints.
SB 471 is aimed at one thing: silencing anyone who would complain to a state’s environmental protection agency about an air pollution issue, an illegal wastewater discharge or any other matter that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality would have authority over. After filing three complaints on a facility, citizens would then be charged for each complaint filed moving forward.”
“Say you live next to a concrete batch plant. They have certain noise levels to maintain, hours to maintain, and they also produce emissions. Let's say you complain about those three different things: noise, hours, emissions. And they don't get rectified — three different areas, same plant — and you complain again. You should not be fined for that,” Beving says.
The bill, if made into law, takes away a Texas citizen’s right to petition the state government for redress of grievances without fear of punishment, fees for filing those complaints, or any other form of reprisal, clear and simple.
HOW TO TAKE ACTION
Beving says people who are concerned about the way such bills would affect their lives should contact their state representative, state senator and Governor Abbot’s office and express their opposition.
"Local governments need the ability to react to conditions and circumstances that arise in their communities as they require action,” Beving says. “Does the Texas Legislature really expect cities to wait every two years till each session starts, as with HB 2127, and hope the state creates, and passes, bills that address those needs?”
"It is obvious from the testimony on these bills, that special interests are at work and in plain sight,” Beving adds. “Citizens need to call and email their legislators. Ask them to stop the attacks on local control, vote no on these bills and allow local elected officials to do what's right for their communities."
Public Citizen’s Texas Legislative webpage.
How to contact Texas Governor Gregg Abbot's office.
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