State bill could limit powers of local government — but Dallas officials reluctant to talk about it
For now, cities can pass ordinances that try to limit pollution, protect workers and provide safeguards for people facing eviction. But some state legislators want to limit that power — and Dallas city officials are worried.
But they're also reluctant to talk about it.
House Bill 2127 came up during an Environment and Sustainability Committee meeting this week.
The bill states that “any person who has sustained an injury in fact, actual or threatened, from a municipal or county ordinance” would be able bring a lawsuit if the ordinance falls under certain areas of state law.
It was introduced into the legislature by Republican Rep. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock.
Committee members expressed concerns over how the proposed legislation could impact future environmental policy at Monday's meeting.
“It’s the largest preemption bill in our state’s history,” Council Member Adam Bazaldua said at the meeting. “I think its really going to impede about nine of our codes at this point.”
Bazaldua, who represents District 7, says the bill could dramatically change how Dallas government functions.
How? Even after concerns were raised in the meeting, Dallas officials didn't want to talk about it.
KERA reached out to the city’s communication department and several council members about the potential effects of the state legislation on Dallas city policy.
An interview was scheduled with District 9 Council Member Paula Blackmon, chair of the Environment and Sustainability committee, but was cancelled.
Blackmon’s staff sent a message saying that the city's communications department "wants to handle it."
After initially saying the City Secretary’s office was looking into questions submitted by KERA News on Monday, Page Jones Clarke — a city public information officer — sent this statement:
“There will not be an additional response at this time.”
Cal Jillson is a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. He says local politicians may be hesitant to speak about state legislation because the effects are largely unknown.
“They really don’t know what it would mean from them,” Jillson said in an interview with KERA. “The language…is quite broad.”
An ‘unwritten agreement’
Jillson say big cities all around the state are worried about the legislation — and what he calls a “growing animus towards major urban" areas across Texas. He also says there was a historic “unwritten agreement” between the state government and local municipalities.
For years local governments balanced limited state funding and resources with what Jillson calls a “relatively free hand” to address their own issues.
Now, he says that agreement is no longer around.
“What appears to be coming in its place is ‘we’re not going to give you much money, but we are going to get in your way as frequently as we choose to’,” Jillson said.
The bill has been introduced but has not yet cleared the legislature. Jillson says Dallas officials could be hesitant to speak critically about the bill because of the climate in Austin.
“Particularly because they know Mr. Burrows already believes municipalities and counties are sort of out of control,” Jillson said.
Jillson says Dallas leaders have stepped into a “fast flowing stream.” City policymakers have to balance what they believe are legitimate legislative criticisms, without pushing too far.
Dallas city officials will have to wait to find out the potential consequences of H.B. 2127, as it makes it’s way through the legislature.
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