​Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin on June 8, 2023.

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin on June 8, 2023.

(Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Republicans Just Annihilated Local Democracy in Texas

Gov. Greg Abbott has signed the so-called "Death Star" bill that strips the state's municipalities of their power to strengthen labor rights, environmental protections, and more.

Texas Republicans this week completed their demolition of local democracy in the state when Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill that drastically limits the ability of cities and counties to enact progressive policies.

House Bill 2127, pushed by corporate lobbyists and signed into law on Wednesday, prohibits municipalities from adopting and enforcing new local ordinances that contradict what's permitted under nine broad areas of the Texas state code. The new law doesn't just prevent localities from implementing fresh regulations; it even overturns existing measures that exceed state rules governing agriculture, business and commerce, finance, insurance, labor, local government, natural resources, occupations, and property.

Progressives have long condemned H.B. 2127 as the "Death Star" bill, a reference to the space station the Empire used to destroy self-governing planets in Star Wars. When the law takes effect on September 1, democratically elected policymakers will be preempted from improving working conditions, tenant rights, environmental safeguards, and more.

"H.B. 2127 is an unprecedented, dangerous power grab that is already beginning to put workers' safety at risk, and will leave our communities vulnerable in times of crisis," the Texas AFL-CIO tweeted Thursday. "The state will now have near-total control of the issues that impact us most. Texans didn't ask for this."

When the GOP-controlled Texas Senate approved the legislation last month, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg (I) called it "probably the most undemocratic thing the Legislature has done, and that list is getting very long."

The Gulf Coast AFL-CIO similarly decried H.B. 2127 as a "dangerous attack" on democracy that "will fundamentally alter" Texas.

"It will roll back decades of worker protections and public safety measures, and ban new ones," the union declared last month. "Leaders we elect to serve our communities won't be able to pass policies that address our needs as working people."

In April, when the GOP-controlled Texas House passed H.B. 2127, Terri Gerstein, director of the Project on State and Local Enforcement at the Harvard Law School Center for Labor and a Just Economy, expressed alarm that Republicans were poised to reverse and disallow numerous local occupational health and safety laws—including measures recently ratified by city officials in Dallas and Austin that require construction companies to give workers water breaks when temperatures reach a certain threshold.

Texas, where heat-related workplace deaths have doubled in the last 10 years, is already among the most dangerous places in the country for workers; more workers have succumbed to heat illness in Texas than in any other state over the past three decades. The deadly effects of extreme heat are only projected to grow worse as the U.S. and other rich nations fail to adequately confront the fossil fuel-driven climate crisis, and Texas Republicans have chosen to exacerbate the problem by outlawing required water breaks and other essential protections.

U.S. Rep. Greg Casar (D-Texas), a recently elected progressive member of Congress who represents a district between Austin and San Antonio, noted that laws such as H.B. 2127 underscore the need for federal legislation to enhance public health and the well-being of workers and ecosystems.

Texas' new law is expected to go far beyond barring municipalities from mandating water breaks for construction workers. Mandatory paid sick leave and minimum wage provisions are also on the chopping block.

In addition, opponents warned last month that "local governments would no longer be able to combat predatory lending or invasive species, regulate excessive noise, or enforce nondiscrimination ordinances," as The Texas Tribunereported. "But those changes might be just the start."

As the newspaper explained:

The bill is so broadly written that no one knows exactly how much it would ultimately limit local governments' power to make rules. Opponents say the bill's reach would likely be determined in the courts as businesses contest ordinances they dislike, one at a time. Meanwhile, they fear, local leaders would be powerless to respond to problems in their backyard—and left at the mercy of an uncaring Republican-dominated Legislature. Democrats predicted that lawmakers would be back in two years to try to rein in unintended consequences of the law.


Democratic senators brought amendments explicitly stating that the bill wouldn't nix local nondiscrimination ordinances—which its authors have said the bill wouldn't touch—and that businesses that sue local governments would have to prove state law substantively regulates the field of law that local rules seek to address. They also tried to allow cities to mandate water breaks for construction workers and enact "fair chance" hiring policies—aimed at giving formerly incarcerated people a better chance at landing a job and reducing the chance they will reoffend. But all of those amendments failed.

Texas Sen. John Whitmire (D-15), who is running to become Houston's mayor, lamented last month that H.B. 2127 would be the "final nail in the coffin" of local government and eradicate the notion of "local control."

The New Republic's Prem Thakker wrote Thursday that "Texas is showing us what has always been the case: Conservatives' conception of 'local control' just means 'I control you.'"

The legislation's lead sponsors were state Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-83) and state Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-4).

Thakker detailed Burrows and Creighton's conflicts of interest:

Burrows, an attorney, is married to someone whose family has been involved with cattle ranching and oil and gas; surely, the family will appreciate the even further weakening of agricultural and natural resource regulations. Cattle ranching is notorious for scandal and corruption—especially in Texas—while oil and gas interests have always enjoyed preferential treatment in America as they decimate our natural landscape and wildlife. The new law will make it all the easier.

Creighton, meanwhile, is the principal and owner of a real estate company, Creighton Realty Partners, and the general counsel for the real estate and development company Signorelli Company. Fortunately, any future developments the companies pursue will not have to deal with pesky regulations, like making sure the workers building the fancy buildings don't die of dehydration from sweltering heat made worse by those aforementioned hardworking oil and gas executives.

"The same politicians working to suppress our vote are now trying to subvert it," the ACLU of Texas tweeted Thursday. "Instead of taking power away from our communities, state politicians should want local leaders to have the power to represent us."

As the Gulf Coast AFL-CIO explained last month:

Houston and Harris County have turned the page on generations of underinvestment in our community. For decades, GOP leaders neglected investments in flood mitigation, outsourced pollution control to industry, and too many were trapped in poverty and unsafe jobs with no way out.

All of our progress has come thanks to the initiative taken by local leaders. By eliminating local control, this bill will cripple our ability to address ongoing local crises, like the epidemic of death of construction sites, and respond to natural disasters when they come.

Making matters worse, it will create chaos and confusion across our local government. It will trigger endless and expensive litigation as we fight for clarity over our basic right to self-govern our own communities.

"H.B. 2127," the union added, "is an unacceptable infringement on our right to have a say in how the places we live and work are governed."

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