House Bill 2127 “is undemocratic,” said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg. “It is probably the most undemocratic thing the Legislature has done, and that list is getting very long.”
Republican state lawmakers in Texas are on the verge of virtually eliminating the ability of Democratic-led cities and counties to enact progressive policies.
At issue is House Bill 2127, which would prohibit municipalities from instituting new local ordinances that go further than what’s already permitted under nine broad areas of state law and also overturn existing regulations that do so, thus preempting democratically elected policymakers from strengthening workers’ rights, environmental protection, and more.
The Texas Senate on Monday voted 18-13 to tentatively approve the draconian legislation authored by state Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-83). Just one Republican, a former mayor, joined Democrats in opposition. The bill must clear a final procedural vote in the upper chamber, which is expected to happen on Tuesday, before it heads back to the Texas House.
The Texas House passed H.B. 2127 last month by a margin of 92-56, mostly along party lines. Lawmakers in the lower chamber must agree to amendments made by senators before the bill goes to the desk of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who has promised to sign it into law.
“The bill is undemocratic,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Monday. “It is probably the most undemocratic thing the Legislature has done, and that list is getting very long. Local voters have created city charters, and I can’t imagine that they will be pleased to have their decisions usurped by lawmakers.”
The Gulf Coast AFL-CIO decried H.B. 2127 as a “dangerous attack” on democracy that “will fundamentally alter” Texas.
“It will roll back decades of worker protections and public safety measures, and ban new ones,” the union declared. “Leaders we elect to serve our communities won’t be able to pass policies that address our needs as working people.”
#HB2127 will fundamentally alter our state.— Gulf Coast AFL-CIO #PassThePROAct (@gcaflcio) May 15, 2023
It will roll back decades of worker protections & public safety measures, and ban new ones.
Leaders we elect to serve our communities won't be able to pass policies that address our needs as working people. pic.twitter.com/4rl4xu2R9c
In a statement, Public Citizen denounced the legislation as “an egregious power grab” that does more to shift power “from communities to the Capitol” than any other measure “in recent memory.” By threatening to weaken local democracy, the bill “ignores more than a century of home-rule precedent,” the progressive watchdog added.
“When this bill goes into effect, cities and counties across Texas will have to rely on the state’s part-time Legislature, which meets for only 140 days every two years, to address various issues and problems of local concern,” Adrian Shelley, the advocacy group’s Texas director, lamented.
“Texans elect local leaders to address local matters,” said Shelley. “Lawmakers who voted for this must explain to their constituents why they gave away local authority to lawmakers hundreds of miles away in Austin who may have never even set foot in their community.”
When the Texas House passed H.B. 2127 last month, Terri Gerstein, director of the Project on State and Local Enforcement at the Harvard Law School Center for Labor and a Just Economy, expressed alarm that the legislation would reverse and ban all sorts of local occupational health and safety laws, including ones that require construction companies to provides their workers with water breaks when temperatures exceed a certain threshold.
The Texas House passed a bill to prevent cities from enacting a whole bunch of workplace laws including requiring construction employers to give their workers *water breaks* on hot days. (!!!) They're preempting cities from requiring WATER BREAKS. https://t.co/5hakiQxqt2— Terri Gerstein (@TerriGerstein) April 19, 2023
“Leaders in Dallas and Austin passed rest break ordinances to address heat illness,” the Workers Defense Action Fund tweeted Monday. “Republicans, with H.B. 2127, want to undo them to help bad employers save a few dollars at the detriment of workers like Antelmo.”
The group was referring to Antelmo Ramirez, a worker who died from hyperthermia in September 2021 while he helped build Tesla’s gigafactory outside Austin. Telsa failed to report Ramirez’s death to Travis County authorities as required by their corporate tax break, The Texas Observer revealed last week.
Condemning Republican lawmakers for turning Texas into “a playground for billionaires,” the Workers Defense Action Fund urged people to contact the state’s senators and tell them to vote no on H.B. 2127.
Republicans are making TX a playground for billionaires, and workers are paying the cost. HB 2127 is just the latest bill toward that goal. It's not "business-friendly." It's anti-worker, and the results are injury and death. Sign: https://t.co/Cx3BphTRpH https://t.co/HvSAlRtFmV— Workers Defense Action Fund (@WDActionFund) May 15, 2023
Organized labor continued to implore voters to call Texas senators on Tuesday. The Texas AFL-CIO, which has denounced H.B. 2127 as “the ‘Death Star’ anti-worker bill,” warned that Tuesday marked the “last chance” to stop the state GOP from taking away “years of hard-fought protections” along with the broader voice of the working class.
Today our legislators will give their final vote on HB 2127- the bill that will strip workers of years of hard-fought protections & take our voice away.— Texas AFL-CIO (@TexasAFLCIO) May 16, 2023
This is our last chance, call your State Senator NOW, tell them to vote NO on HB 2127: https://t.co/e7ZXymZgmJ
In addition to barring mandated water breaks for construction workers, opponents of H.B. 2127 warn that “local governments would no longer be able to combat predatory lending or invasive species, regulate excessive noise, or enforce nondiscrimination ordinances,” The Texas Tribunereported Monday. “But those changes might be just the start.”
As the newspaper explained:
The bill is so broadly written that no one knows exactly how much it would ultimately limit local governments’ power to make rules. Opponents say the bill’s reach would likely be determined in the courts as businesses contest ordinances they dislike, one at a time. Meanwhile, they fear, local leaders would be powerless to respond to problems in their backyard—and left at the mercy of an uncaring Republican-dominated Legislature. Democrats predicted that lawmakers would be back in two years to try to rein in unintended consequences of the law.
Democratic senators brought amendments explicitly stating that the bill wouldn’t nix local nondiscrimination ordinances—which its authors have said the bill wouldn’t touch—and that businesses that sue local governments would have to prove state law substantively regulates the field of law that local rules seek to address. They also tried to allow cities to mandate water breaks for construction workers and enact “fair chance” hiring policies—aimed at giving formerly incarcerated people a better chance at landing a job and reducing the chance they will reoffend. But all of those amendments failed.
Texas Sen. John Whitmire (D-15), who is running to become Houston’s mayor, said the bill would be the “final nail in the coffin” of local government and eradicate the notion of “local control.”
The Gulf Coast AFL-CIO, meanwhile, characterized H.B. 2127 as “a hostile and sweeping power grab by partisan state officials designed to decimate our basic ability to govern ourselves, disenfranchise Houstonians, and block the passage of policies that improve the lives of working families and are popular with Houstonians.”
Houston and Harris County have turned the page on generations of underinvestment in our community. For decades, GOP leaders neglected investments in flood mitigation, outsourced pollution control to industry, and too many were trapped in poverty and unsafe jobs with no way out.
All of our progress has come thanks to the initiative taken by local leaders. By eliminating local control, this bill will cripple our ability to address ongoing local crises, like the epidemic of death of construction sites, and respond to natural disasters when they come.
Making matters worse, it will create chaos and confusion across our local government. It will trigger endless and expensive litigation as we fight for clarity over our basic right to self-govern our own communities.
“H.B.2127,” the union added, “is an unacceptable infringement on our right to have a say in how the places we live and work are governed.”
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