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  • Stephanie Koithan

The Most Anti-Houston Bill in Texas History

Updated: Mar 7

This session, the Texas legislature broadly gutted local governments’ ability to legislate and enact policies popular with millions of Texans. In a period of urban and rural polarization, local control is the wall around the citadel that protects our progressive cities from the threats posed by an extremist and out-of-touch state government.

Republicans at the state level have long sought to curb the power of Home Rule cities in Texas like Houston, which are overwhelmingly liberal. To counteract many of the state government’s most harmful laws and control their own destiny, cities often implement municipal ordinances, creating a divergence between the state and local level. HB 2127, otherwise known as the “Texas Regulatory Consistency Act” or, less affectionately, the “Death Star Bill,” is designed to do away with that chasm.

This bill threatens progressive local office holder’s policy plans, community organization’s endeavors at grassroots democracy, and the municipal voter’s recourse in an otherwise hostile political landscape. Local policies affected include threatening eviction protections, eliminating water usage restrictions during droughts, dismantling noise ordinances, doing business with puppy mills, bolstering police spending, and writing a blank check to predatory lending.

HB 2127, which has been sent to Governor Abbott’s desk to be signed into law, has many, far-reaching consequences, and it might be even worse than we think. The worst harms—and potential limits—of the bill will be given more concrete shape in the courts through test cases and impact litigation. Progressive advocacy lawyers will be the last line of defense from the worst version of this law, which hangs over cities like the sword of Damocles.

Worker Protections

HB 2127 jeopardizes workers’ rights. Austin and Dallas have mandated water breaks for construction workers to combat the heat. Labor advocates note that OSHA doesn’t have sufficient heat protections, especially for Texas summers. As temperatures climb, mandated water breaks can mean the difference between life and death. HB 2127 would also impact local worker protections like the executive order Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner signed to establish a $15 minimum wage for airport workers.

But Texas Republicans always side with employers over the workers they’re exploiting. As a prime example of this, Texas is a right-to-work state, which is a euphemistically titled law in the Texas Labor Code that negatively impacts the strength of unions and weakens worker protections by prohibiting security agreements between employers and unions and creating an “opt-in” system instead. Where state law has failed workers, local governments have attempted to step in, but goodbye to all that.

“Instead of solving local problems locally, local governments will have to come to Austin to seek permission to act from extreme state officials who have already shown that they have never met a worker protection measure they like,” said Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy.

A Love Letter to Big Business

Republican legislators argue that local control harms businesses by imposing additional regulations upon them. But business in Texas is already booming. In response to this sob story, Austin Democrat Sarah Eckhardt said it best: “we would be the ninth largest economy in the world if we were our own nation, but you’re saying that business is having trouble here?”

Republicans call HB 2127 a “lifeline for small businesses” but there is a reason that giant industrial lobbying groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business fought hard for this bill.

Chilling Local Democracy

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg called HB 2127 “the most undemocratic thing the legislature has done, and that list is getting very long.” This bill diminishes the power of local officials, but it also diminishes how much we can influence them. HB 2127 could have a chilling effect on activist groups in our urban centers, who are trained to “think globally, act locally.”

The local level is often where activist groups can have the biggest impact through pressuring local officials to implement progressive propositions. A recent example is San Antonio’s Prop A, also dubbed the “Justice Charter,” which proposed banning no-knock warrants, decriminalizing marijuana possession and abortion, and codifying cite-and-release within city limits.

Though it failed to garner the necessary votes, it was an impressive bit of organizing by a broad coalition of local activist groups led by ACT 4 SA, who collected 38,200 signatures—well above the 20,000 needed to put it on the ballot. By eliminating local control, it’s unclear how jeopardized this type of organizing could become.

“ takes away any local control—both of our local government and voters—to pass any type of policy they want to protect their communities,” said Ananda Thomas, organizer of Act 4 SA who spearheaded the Justice Charter initiative. “We cannot protect our most marginalized communities, such as the LGBTQ+ or immigrant communities, from the authoritarian regime that is now our Texas state government. We have to fight back—our freedom and lives are at stake!”

What’s Next

HB 2127 has been sent to Governor Abbott’s desk to be signed into law. It’s unclear exactly how HB 2127 will impact cities, but this will likely play out in our courts as businesses seek to whittle away at specific local regulations.

However, there is hope.

As the Texas AFL-CIO advises, the legislative power and progressive policies lost under HB 2127 can be recovered by other means, in an even more direct way than a local ordinance—inside union contracts won by organized workers where they work.

If HB 2127 represents a profound democratic impasse that pits majority cities against minority-rule Republicans, perhaps an organized working class capable of pressuring an otherwise broken representative system is our way out of the morass.

Call to Action

With organizing strategies up in the air in light of this bill, techniques will have to change with the rapidly morphing regulatory environment. What we DO know is that this bill was drafted in the Texas House. Before you act, ask yourself the following questions. Do you know:

  1. Your Texas House District?

  2. The name of your Texas House rep?

  3. How they voted on HB 2127?

  4. When they are up for re-election?

The Texas House of Representatives holds its next election in 2024. Texas House reps are elected for 2-year terms. If your rep voted against HB 2127–or only voted “present” and then was absent for the final vote like mine–you can email them to express your disappointment. Here’s how you do that:

  1. Fill out the form on Who Represents Me?

  2. Click through on the name of your Texas House Representative

  3. Click “Email”

  4. On another tab, search for how they voted on this bill on this Vote Lookup site:

  5. Enter “HB 2127” in the Bill Number field

  6. Select “88(R) - 2023” from the Legislature dropdown

  7. Click “Go”

  8. Click “Most recent house vote”

  9. Click “CTRL + F” to search their last name and see if they are listed among the votes for “present,” “yeas,” “neas,” or if they’re recorded as “absent”

  10. Toggle back to the email tab and either thank them or admonish them. They work for us, and don’t let them forget it!

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