As the gears on the special session bus begin to turn, many opponents of Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda are firing attacks from their respective cities demanding that state lawmakers stop preempting their “local control.”
Unfortunately for city and county officials, the reality is that their entities were created by the state which retains the sole discretion to preempt local laws to protect the local liberty of everyday Texans.
The war between “state vs. local”, has waged on for some time but gained steam during the 84th legislative session when state lawmakers pushed back against the City of Denton after they tried to ban fracking within city limits. The state also stepped in during the most recent regular session after local governments began expanding onerous ridesharing laws that not only created a patchwork of regulations for transportation networking companies, but in some instances, forced them to pull out of some Texas cities.
It’s not every day that the state steps in on local issues, it is only when local entities limit the liberty of the Texans within their jurisdiction. What many may not realize is that before fracking and ridesharing, the state has stepped in to protect something beloved by many Texans, their dogs.
Texas is one of seventeen states that prohibits its municipalities from passing breed-specific legislation (BSL) or breed bans. Breed bans are laws that prohibit specific breeds of dogs based on characteristics, like the way the dog looks or the shape of its head. These laws are based out off of nothing other than fear.
They began circulating around the country in the 1980s and 90s after a string of dog bite incidents. Study after study has shown pit bulls aren’t inherently more dangerous than other dogs; the problem is irresponsible owners and how they train, or don’t train, their dog. Punishing responsible dog owners and limiting their right to own a dog of their choosing because of the stupidity of others is wrong, and Texas made sure to get it right.
Specifically, the section of the Health and Safety Code regarding this was added in 1991, and it states that counties or municipalities can only place additional requirements or restrictions on dangerous dogs if they “are not specific to one breed or several breeds of dogs.”
About 900 cities in the country have breed bans that primarily target pit bulls, even though technically “pit bull” is not a breed, but rather an umbrella term used to define breeds that share the same physical description, these breeds include the American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, American bully, and the Staffordshire bull terrier.
The United Kennel Club said that the American pit bull terrier “is not the best choice for a guard dog since they are extremely friendly, even with strangers.” Some rankings list pit bull temperaments better than that of Golden Retrievers. Yet, they have not been able to shake the stereotype forced upon them by horror films and unfounded fears. This ignorance has led to legislation against them and to the euthanizing of these dogs as they are often deemed “unadoptable” in shelters and must be put down.
In fact, just last year Houston City Council member, Dwight Boykins, used $50,000 of his office budget—tax dollars—to have a Houston shelter perform a “sweep” of dogs in his district following a dog attack which was blamed on a “pit bull.” Animal advocates offered up numerous non-lethal options to the council member, but out of the dogs picked up during the sweep 74 were euthanized.
Even with the preemption codified in state statute, some local governments in Texas have found their own unique workarounds.
The city of Childress prohibits their shelters from adopting out pit bulls, chows, and wolf hybrids or “any other dog that is considered dangerous or aggressive.” Forest Hills has identified pit bulls as “dangerous” which they determine to mean “any animal weighing more than 20 pounds with a propensity, tendency or disposition to human beings or domestic animals.” Any “dangerous” animal in Forest Hills is prohibited within “corporate limits of the city” unless it is confined at all times.
Garland issued a directive to notify residents of how they must house any pit bulls within city limits. Not only do they impose strict dimensions on enclosures for pit bulls, but they also require it to be maintained “within a home with all doors and windows closed”. Magnolia’s code of ordinances states, “there shall be an irrefutable presumption that any dog registered with the city as a pit bull dog is a dangerous dog.”
Even with a statewide preemption, pit bulls remain in shelters in large numbers, have restrictions placed on them by municipal workarounds, and in some municipalities, require owners to have $100,000 liability insurance if deemed “dangerous.” It’s not hard to imagine that without statewide preemption many local entities would jump at the chance to pass regulation banning breeds of dogs they deem dangerous.
Fear and ignorance shouldn’t dictate legislation, and in this instance the Texas legislature ensured that won’t happen. This is exactly what preemption laws are designed to do; protect the local liberty of all Texans from infringement by their local governments.