AUSTIN — The sunset red granite of the Texas state capitol stands at 302 feet. It towers over nearby Travis County and Austin municipal buildings, as if to convey a physical superiority over those lesser government bodies. When legislators return for a special session this week, they will advance a series of laws that would make that state supremacy more concrete.
Republicans who run Texas are increasingly targeting laws passed by cities and counties with so-called preemption measures, bills that would restrict a local government’s power to pass laws regulating certain industries or setting policy. It is part of a national trend in which Republican legislators are moving to preempt local governments, on issues ranging from minimum wage laws to immigration enforcement and even the use of plastic bags at retail establishments.
Supporters say the preemption laws are meant to create a consistent set of laws around a state. Opponents say it is a way for conservative legislatures to overrule more liberal city governments, at the cost of local control.
“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,” Gina Hinojosa, a Democratic state representative whose district includes the core of downtown Austin, said in an interview in her Capitol office.
In Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has the power to set the agenda in this week’s special session, legislators will consider eight new measures to take power away from county and municipal governments.
Two proposals would set caps on taxes and spending. Two others would govern permitting and construction projects. One would prevent cities from requiring homeowners to seek approval before cutting down historic trees on their own property. Another would set a statewide standard for texting while driving, superseding local efforts to crack down on distracted driving.