Republicans in the Texas state legislature will attempt to introduce laws to reduce the powers of local governments in a special session. Governor Gregg Abbott’s agenda will focus on limiting the power of municipal governments on several issues with so-called preemption laws, with a keystone issue being the power to raise property taxes, as noted by the Amarillo Globe-News. The agenda suggests a cap on raising taxes, with municipalities facing an election if a tax over the limit is introduced. The cap has not been decided, but five percent has been suggested.
As noted by the Hill, the supporters of such measures say that it will enforce legal consistency across Texas, while opponents have accused the Republican state government of attempting to overrule liberal governments in cities such as Austin. The proposals have caused a furor, particularly in the area of education. Texas has no state income tax, with local governments contributing 45 percent of schools’ budgets in 2008. However, state funding has since fallen to 38 percent, with reform stuck in political limbo after a conflict between the Texas House of Representatives and the state Senate. The school funding issue is particularly relevant following one 2016 study that ranked Texan schools as the worst in the nation, as reported by the Dallas Morning News.
Other issues currently controlled by local governments that will be up for reconsideration under the agenda include enforcement of immigration laws, rules on plastic bags, and local rules on texting while driving. Democrat state representative Gina Hinojosa said that the reforms were partly an attempt to wrest control from local governments due to political differences.
“Part of it is motivated by our urban communities that are very blue and Democratic and have different ideas about the environment and workers rights. I think it’s just offensive to Republican leaders.”
In an interview, Governor Abbott has framed the proposed laws as a protection of individual liberty, saying, “I’ll fight back against federal, state or any government that infringes upon people’s liberty.”
Another bill on the agenda that has come under fierce criticism is the attempt to place transgender rights under the control of the Texas state legislature. Currently, local governments can decide whether transgender people are allowed to use the bathroom of the gender they identify as, with organizations, including GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign, reacting angrily on social media.
As reported by the Dallas Morning News, tech giant IBM has also reacted angrily to the portions of the agenda that will affect transgender rights and are to take out full-page advertisements in several Texas newspapers, including the Dallas Morning News, to protest the legislation. Executives from the company are also set to travel to Austin to protest in person.
Abortion may also be under threat from the Texas state legislature, with the agenda including provisions to lose elective abortion from health insurance plans and to loosen local control over spending tax dollars on abortion providers, as reported by KVUE. Speaking on the measures, Abbott said that the legislature must “use this opportunity to do more to protect our unborn children.” Abortion has been a topic of much controversy in Texas recently, with large protests occurring in May against Senate Bill 8, which will come into effect in September. As reported by the Dallas Observer, the bill’s measures include a ban of dilation and evacuation, the safest method of abortion, including in cases of rape or incest.
The battle between state and city legislature has been exemplified by the vastly different viewpoints of Abbott and Mark Pertschuk, the director of the organization Grassroots Change. Pertschuk has said the proposed laws will limit “innovation in civil rights, in safety and in community health,” saying numerous important developments in such areas originated in local legislatures. Meanwhile, Abbott stated that “the architecture of the United States of America puts states at the centerpiece.” The session is set to begin on Tuesday.
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