By David Stout
Hey local voter. Did you know that the Texas Legislature this session passed a law to deny your vote on local issues?
HB 2127, dubbed the “Death Star Bill,” a name embraced by its authors, broadly undermines the idea of home rule, local control, and democracy, replacing those concepts with centralized state power. HB 2127 at worst prohibits, and at best chills, city and county governments — and even you, the local voters – from taking certain actions in the areas of agriculture, finance, labor, natural resources, and occupation licenses.
Just to give two examples of how this can affect us, locally (and cruelly):
- In a time of blistering summer heat, local communities cannot mandate a water break for construction workers, which the state has refused for years to consider. Texas is the most deadly state for construction workers; the Texas Tribune reported in June that “at least 42 workers died in Texas between 2011 and 2021 from environmental heat exposure, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
- In 2014, El Paso County began offering employee health benefits to same-sex couples and domestic partners. Because the implied authority to hire, fire, and provide benefits, as noted above, cannot exceed or conflict with federal or state law, we most likely would not have had the ability to extend these benefits without fear of litigation.
It has long been the case that counties have implied authority to do the things they are expressly authorized to do. We are permitted to hire and fire workers, for example. If there is no explicit authority to do something, how do we hire, fire, or provide benefits to our employees?
Additionally, this law allows anyone who thinks a local government may be exceeding a state standard to sue, and also waives the county’s governmental immunity to the extent that liability is found.
This is dangerous. Governmental immunity is a recognized legal defense granted to governmental entities to curb frivolous lawsuits that could lead to the use of public funds for costly litigation.
I point all of this out to warn you that the Legislature does not trust you, local voters, to decide what is best for your community, and is willing to retroactively nullify your voices. Unfortunately, and scarily, there are strong and well-resourced forces egging them on.
I’m talking about the Texas Association of Business. They heavily supported this legislation which strips you of your right to vote. Did you know the TAB is the state association for chambers of commerce and our El Paso Chamber is a member?
Did you know that during his closing arguments, we were told by the author of HB 2127 that he had conversations with the Chamber about El Paso’s Prop K in the context of his legislation, using it as a prime example of why power should be taken from local voters. They didn’t trust you with this – what will it be next time?
Now, we all know Prop K was strongly defeated in El Paso, but you, local voters, were trusted with that election and it was allowed to take place. Our community and our leaders can now better understand what local voters expect, and whether you supported Prop K or not, there is something to be said about allowing state legislators, who know nothing about El Paso, to usurp the will of our voters. It is undemocratic and puts us on a slippery slope toward autocracy.
I’m glad our legislative delegation voted against this bill, but saddened at the support it got elsewhere.
The El Paso Chamber says it did not officially support this unconstitutional legislation, but their state association, TAB, did, and effusively so. The El Paso Chamber’s silence regarding the TAB’s support of voter suppression is deafening to me. They should work with us to preserve local control because we understand their wants and needs and work with them quite a bit.
I am pushing El Paso County to take legal action against the state so that we can undo this terrible wrong. If the El Paso Chamber truly doesn’t support HB 2127, I don’t see why they wouldn’t join us. Do you?
David Stout has represented Precinct 2 on El Paso County Commissioners Court since 2015.