City Attorney: San Antonio won’t take ordinances off the books in face of sweeping preemption bill

HB 2127 prevents cities from passing ordinances on subjects covered in large swaths of state law

San Antonio – A bill that San Antonio officials say could have broad consequences on the city’s ability to tackle local issues is one signature away from becoming law.

House Bill 2127 was sent to Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday after the final version passed 18-13 in the Senate and 84-58 in the House. The so-called “Texas Regulatory Consistency Act” was sponsored by Lubbock Republican State Rep. Dustin Burrows and would prevent cities like San Antonio from making or enforcing local laws on issues like evictions, employment benefits, or a host of other subjects.

Supporters say HB 2127 is about keeping regulations consistent across the state, while opponents say it’s another attack by the state legislature on local control.

If Gov. Abbott signs the bill as expected, it will take effect Sep. 1.

The proposal has few friends in the San Antonio city government. District 4 Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia called it the “Death Star Bill” during a recent city council meeting. District 9 Councilman John Courage warned it would “cripple municipalities all over the state.”

Cities already aren’t allowed to enact rules that would go against state law, but City Attorney Andy Segovia says the bill goes further than that. It would prevent cities from passing laws that are even on the same subjects covered within entire portions of state law, including the finance, insurance, labor, or property codes.

“The key difference with this bill is it says we can’t pass ordinances that are within the regulatory field, which is a very, very broad category,” he told KSAT on Wednesday.

Despite the dire warnings, Segovia and other city officials have not listed many examples of local ordinances that would be affected.

“The problem is that the bill is so general and so vague, it is hard to make a definitive answer on any particular question on an ordinance itself,” Segovia said.

The final answers may come through court battles. The bill would allow nearly anyone to file a lawsuit over an alleged violation if they’ve “sustained an injury in fact, actual or threatened” from any rule or ordinance that violates the preemption law.

Segovia expects the city will face at least some legal action, but he’s “hoping that we’re not going to have a flood of them.”

He said the city would defend its ordinances in court and does not plan to say any of its ordinances are void under the bill.

“The plan is to keep everything in place until it’s challenged,” he said.

However, going forward, Segovia said his office would be more actively looking at proposals going before the city council.

“I’m not saying it’ll take some...ordinances off the table or not, but it will definitely require additional analysis and time as we look at ordinances that are going to be before city council,” he said.

Segovia believes the proposed law is unconstitutional, as home-rule cities like San Antonio “can do whatever they want as long as it’s not inconsistent or contrary to state law.”

He would not detail any possible legal action the city could take, though he said San Antonio would monitor how other cities may want to handle the bill.

“We don’t have anything ready to go at this point, but we probably will work and communicate with other cities to see if they if there is a strategy to do that,” he said.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.