Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, in his third set of Interim Studies released yesterday, is asking the Senate to focus on local governments. In particular, he’s charged the Inter-Governmental Relations Committee chaired by State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), to examine and improve upon the accountability, transparency, and effectiveness of our state’s cities and counties.
Patrick’s news release specifically states, “The Inter-Governmental Relations (IGR) Committee will review and identify concerns related to municipal annexation as well as maintaining the integrity of local ordinances. The IGR Committee will also look for ways to improve disaster readiness, regional cooperation and rebuilding efforts.”
Although ultimately unsuccessful, annexation reform efforts gained relatively strong momentum during the recent legislative session. SB 1639, authored by State Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), and HB 2221, authored by State Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), made an effort to reform the annexation process by requiring cities to obtain the approval of voters it seeks to govern. Current law allows cities to force annexation on new property owners, which has been heavily scrutinized for its lack of accountability and disregard for citizens’ property and voting rights. Unfortunately, while SB 1639 passed out of the Senate chamber, HB 2221 died on a point of order on the House floor.
Patrick has also charged the Senate with strengthening another measure of local government accountability—ballot disclosure. By requiring local governments to disclose the total cost of a specific debt measure on the ballot, voters would be able to make more informed decisions. Unfortunately, previous conservative attempts greater transparency, spurred by former State Comptroller Susan Combs, were defeated by the very entities that benefit from lower standards – local governments and their taxpayer-funded lobbyists.
With local government policy in mind, a contentious topic during the legislative session was the notion of “local control.” Some may recall the well-known HB 40, a bill preempting cities from enacting an ordinance that “bans, limits or otherwise regulates an oil and gas operation,” a power constitutionally vested in the legislature and the Texas Railroad Commission. This bill, among others, drew attention to the question of local versus state rule. During the session, the fallacious and insubstantial argument of “local control” was used by local government and tax-funded lobbyists to defend unlawful ordinances that undermine state law, property rights, and personal liberty.
HB 40 and Patrick’s interim charge is a reminder that local governments, just like citizens, are subject to the laws that govern them. For example, a city would not have the power to ignore Texas’ gun laws, by unilaterally declaring their jurisdiction a “gun-free zone.”
Patrick has asked the committee to examine processes used by home rule municipalities to adopt local ordinances, identify ways to improve transparency, and ensure consistency with state law in regards to local propositions.
For a complete list of Lt. Gov. Patrick’s Interim Study Charges click here.