Citizens in four Texas counties have successfully submitted petitions to stop forced annexation within their county borders. Freestone County residents are the latest – and more may be joining them.

Volunteers organized as Stop Forced Annexation Freestone County began collecting signatures on a municipal annexation reform “opt-in” petition in March. The petition calls for a countywide vote to stop cities in Freestone County from annexing unincorporated property without landowners’ consent.

On June 27, organizers submitted their petition to county officials with over 1,700 signatures — well above the 10 percent of registered voters’ signatures needed to get the issue on the ballot. Election officials validated the signatures on June 29; Freestone County Commissioners Court will approve putting the opt-in measure on the November ballot later this month.

Then it will be up to the voters to decide.

The opt-in petition process is part of Texas’ limited municipal annexation reform law enacted in last year’s special legislative session. Senate Bill 6 was written to restrict forced annexation only in counties with 500,000 or more residents — what the bill calls “Tier 2” counties. Unincorporated property owners in all other Texas counties, including Freestone, can still be annexed by cities without their consent, unless residents vote to change their county from “Tier 1” to protected Tier 2 status.

“Cities abusing their authority with forced annexation practices is nothing more than a form of taxation without representation,” Gov. Greg Abbott said ahead of the 2017 special session in which he again called for reform after lobbyists helped kill it in the regular session. “Cities that annex property without the approval from those affected is piracy by government, and must end.”

The Texas Legislature failed last session to end forced annexation in most of the state. Lawmakers are expected to try again in 2019, but residents of Freestone and other Tier 1 counties aren’t waiting around.

Parker County residents were the first to successfully submit a municipal annexation reform petition under the new law. Volunteers with Stop Involuntary Annexation in Parker County started circulating their petition as soon as SB 6 was enacted. By March, they’d collected over 15,000 petition signatures; in April, county commissioners set the state’s first opt-in election.

Wise County residents filed the second successful petition for a vote to end forced annexation. Led by the group Wise Citizens for Property Rights, they collected over 6,000 petition signatures in six months. In June, Wise County commissioners accepted their petition and put an opt-in measure on the November ballot.

Johnson County residents submitted their petition with over 12,000 signatures on June 5. Once election officials verify the signatures, petition organizers with Stop Forced Annexation in Johnson County expect Commissioners Court to order a November opt-in election at its July 23 meeting.

A petition drive is also underway in Ellis County, just south of Dallas, organized under the banner Ellis County Annexation Reform. Citizens there are working to gather 15,000 petition signatures by July 6.

Residents of Palo Pinto County, just west of Parker, also hope to get an opt-in measure on the November ballot – but they have less than a month to make it happen. Organizers of the newly formed group Stop Forced Annexation in Palo Pinto County say they must have 2,000 petition signatures turned in to the county by July 21.

In these and other counties across the state, Texans are gathering together to speak out and take action against local government overreach.

“In the final analysis, forced annexation is about the people,” Ed O’Neill, Vice President of Stop Forced Annexation Freestone County, told Texas Scorecard. “The people must decide. The Declaration of Independence gives us that right. The American Constitution gives us that right. The Texas Constitution gives us that right.”

Whatever the outcome of the opt-in elections in November, activists in every county say they’ll keep fighting for a legislative fix that protects all Texans from the government piracy of forced annexation.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.