Bud Kennedy

They praise ‘local control,’ but they want Austin control

Resolutions are distributed during a 2013 session of the Texas House.
Resolutions are distributed during a 2013 session of the Texas House. AP

Obviously, the Texas Legislature does not have enough to do.

When lawmakers convene Tuesday in Austin, they will have five months to work up a budget and fix anything that might need fixing between now and 2019.

Apparently that isn’t enough to keep them busy. Some lawmakers want to dabble in rewriting city laws, too.

If you’re a city official planning to regulate anything from discrimination to smoking, my advice is to lie low till May 30.

That’s when the Legislature will be safely out of Austin. Until then, lawmakers are entirely likely to revoke almost any city law, while posing as the guardians of freedom and liberty defying fascism at city hall.

I am not kidding. There are lawmakers who want to pass state laws overriding local ordinances on everything from gas drilling to Uber to texting while driving, and probably more.

State Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, set the pace in July with an op-ed saying that when local government is being “oppressive, then absolutely we believe in state control.”

She quoted the old Henry David Thoreau line from Civil Disobedience: “That government is best which governs least.”

By that standard, the Texas Legislature is one of the very finest, since it is about the least government anyone could ever imagine, short of electing 181 canned hams.

Not to be outdone, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland told a forum last fall that if a city doesn’t go along with lawmakers, “We can remove their charter.”

Depending on whom you ask, the battle over “local control” vs. “state control” is over something as small as grocery store plastic bags, or something as big as overturning Fort Worth and Arlington civil-rights ordinances that protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents from discrimination.

Senate Bill 92, by state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, would require “uniform” civil-rights laws statewide and would void local ordinances, all under the euphemistic title “Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act.”

Hall’s bill says the change would “attract new businesses, organizations and employers.”

But the Texas Association of Business says laws legalizing discrimination could cost the state up to $8.5 billion, chase away young workers and damage the tourism industry.

In Hall’s online explanation, he pleads ignorance: “There are at least 58 gender options. … Would [you] know exactly what behavior you are required not to discriminate against?”

I’ll point out that Hall did not pass a single bill last session. He has, however, hosted a summit on the threat of electromagnetic pulses from outer space.

That may be outside state control.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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