State Politics

Abbott continues push to end patchwork of local regulations in Texas

Texas Governor Greg Abbott in Fort Worth

Greg Abbott wraps up a visit to the 2017 Economic Freedom Summit with a comment about Texans and government.
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Greg Abbott wraps up a visit to the 2017 Economic Freedom Summit with a comment about Texans and government.

Gov. Greg Abbott has long said he’s tired of the patchwork of local regulations that stretch across Texas, allowing different rules in different cities to govern everything from plastic bags to fracking.

The governor’s push is strongly opposed by city and county governments statewide who consider it an attack on local control, but Abbott said it’s time to pre-empt regulations by cities and counties and create one statewide approach.

“One strategy would be for the state of Texas to take rifle shot after rifle shot after rifle shot approach to try to override all these local regulations,” Abbott told a crowd of more than 100 gathered at the Petroleum Club for a luncheon hosted by the Austin-based Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute.

“I think it would be far simpler and frankly easier for those of you who have to run your lives and businesses on a daily basis if the state of Texas adopted an overriding policy and that is to create certain standards that must be met before which local municipalities or counties can do regulations,” he said. “It would be a broad-based ban on regulations on the local level unless and until certain standards are met.”

This way, he said, communities such as Denton couldn’t ban hydraulic fracking, prompting the Legislature to then pass a bill dramatically altering what cities could do to control urban drilling.

Gov. Abbott’s visit comes halfway through the legislative session, which ends May 29.

And cities across the state couldn’t pass measures, as some have done, essentially doing away with plastic bags at grocery stores or creating new standards for ride-hailing services such as Uber or Lyft. Nor could they pass rules governing short-term home rentals or Airbnb vacation rentals.

“The goal here is to make it far easier for businesses to conduct operations in the state of Texas that deal with cross-city and cross-county lines,” Abbott said in response to questions by John Colyandro, executive director of the research institute.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price is among a multitude of local officials statewide who are banding together to protect local control on a wide range of issues. The Texas Municipal League has made opposition to efforts by the governor and others to undermine local control one of the top priorities of the session that concludes at the end of May.

Abbott’s comments in part may be directed at some efforts this session to encourage services such Uber to return to cities it left in response to new local regulations.

The governor also pointed to a tree rule in Austin that’s he’s not happy with because the rule prevents him from cutting down a pecan tree on his own property unless he pays a fine or plants other trees on his land.

“Private property rights were being mowed down,” he said.

He added that states — not the federal government and not cities and counties — are meant to drive the rules of what can and cannot happen in the country, adding that the country isn’t known as the “United States of Municipalities.”

Abbott joined Price, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar and others Monday at the 2017 Economic Freedom Summit in Fort Worth.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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