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The Height of Hypocrisy: Cities vs State

Publication Date: 4/30/2015
  • Author:STACEY CAMERON
  • Publication:News 4 San Antonio

...So effective here, Hodges says other West Texas towns are now working to ban plastic bags. But at the State Capitol some conservative lawmakers don't like the ordinance.

They're also against cities regulating things like minimum wage and fracking.

So Republican State Senator Don Huffines is pushing a law to curb the power of city halls all over Texas.

"We created the municipalities," said Huffines, referring to the Texas Legislature. "So we're responsible to make sure they don't trample the freedom and liberties of their citizens and the business community."

In Texas if a city's population tops 5,000, its citizens can pass a home rule charter, giving City Council the power to regulate just about anything.

Huffines says most city's don't overstep that authority, but a handful of city councils are out of control, passing regulations he says violate state law and threaten the economy.

To put the brakes on that Huffines proposed a law, Senate Bill 343, that would preempt cities from passing an ordinance if the state claims regulatory authority. "That super preemption idea would be terrible," says Bret Sandlin, Executive Director of the Texas Municipal League.

But Huffines isn't acting alone, according to Sandlin. No fewer than forty lawmakers in both the Texas House and Senate have introduced bills that would block some aspect of municipal regulatory authority. Sandlin says these proposed laws are the handiwork of special interests that can't buy influence in city halls.

"It's like a feeding frenzy of special interests that have come to Austin trying to say local voters don't have the power to dictate what happens in their town," Sandlin said.

If special interests win, Sandlin says city councils all over Texas will basically need to get state approval before passing any kind of ordinance.

"I would argue at that point why would you even need a city council and why would you even have to have a mayor," said Rey Saldana, the City Councilman spearheading San Antonio's fight against preemption.

Saldana is worried preemption bills like Huffines could end up stripping a lot of local laws off the books...