Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

‘Death Star’ bill lands in Texas, limiting local governments across state

Kevin Kim
Congressman Greg Casar speaks to protesters at the Governor’s Mansion against the Death Star Bill on Sept. 7, 2023. The protest was organized by the Workers Defense Project who want to protect the mandated rest breaks for workers outlined in local Austin ordinance.

A new Texas law limiting local governments’ power to legislate in cities across the state went into effect Sept. 1, despite a Travis County legal decision calling it unconstitutional. 

House Bill 2127, nicknamed the “Death Star” bill by opponents, prevents city governments from passing and enforcing local ordinances in broad policy areas like agriculture, labor and natural resources where state law already exists. The law intends to correct the “patchwork” of inconsistent business regulations created by differing city ordinances and intends to return broad regulatory power to the state. 

Last month, district judge Maya Guerra Gamble of Travis County ruled that the law violated the Texas Constitution in a lawsuit led by the city of Houston. Shortly after, the Attorney General’s Office appealed the ruling, allowing the law to go into effect. 

Joshua Blank, the director of research at the Texas Politics Project, said the public will not understand the full scope of the law for quite some time. He said it will take individuals challenging specific city ordinances around the state and judges determining if state law would preempt those ordinances to get a full picture of the ramifications of HB 2127.

The law largely targets urban, liberal cities by preventing them from passing progressive policies at the local level, according to the Texas Tribune. Blank said the law will ultimately affect all local governments, “including the majority of Republican governments throughout the state.” 

“The legislature only meets for one 140-day session every two years and is generally focused on the needs of the state, not the needs of any local political geography, whereas local governments are elected regularly to respond to the needs of local residents as they see fit,” Blank said. “At its heart, the issue here is that local governments by law now must be less responsive to the needs of local residents for fear of adverse legal actions against them.”

Austin residents fear the bill will strike down local regulations not codified by state or federal law meant to protect workers from heat-afflicted illnesses, including a 2010 ordinance requiring construction workers receive a 10-minute water break every four hours.

“We don’t have any statewide or federal protections for workers,” said Christine Bolaños, the communications director of social justice organization Workers Defense Project. “It’s really been up to organizations like ours and our members, the vast majority of whom are construction workers, to fight and win rest break ordinances.”

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that Texas leads the country in on-the-job, heat-related deaths, with 42 recorded since 2011. Bolaños, who protested HB 2127 outside the governor’s mansion last week, said the climate crisis will only exacerbate heat-related injuries and deaths if protections for workers do not remain. 

“All we want is for our state lawmakers to be held accountable to the people who make this state run,” Bolaños said. “These people that you see here today are the ones who build our hospitals, our schools, our bridges, and if they’re passing out, if they’re dying, we’re not going to be the great state of Texas that we tell ourselves we are.”

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