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Texas judge rules as unconstitutional a law that erodes city regulations in favor of state control

Aug 30, 2023, 3:01 PM

FILE - Standing in the mid-afternoon heat, a worker takes a break to drink during a parking lot asp...

FILE - Standing in the mid-afternoon heat, a worker takes a break to drink during a parking lot asphalt resurfacing job in Richardson, Texas, June 20, 2023. While unrelenting heat set in across Texas this summer, opponents of a sweeping new law targeting local regulations took to the airwaves and internet with an alarming message: outdoor workers would be banned from taking water breaks. Workers would die, experts and advocates said, with high temperatures topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) and staying there for much of the past two months. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

CHICAGO (AP) — A Texas judge ruled Wednesday that a new law eroding the power of the state’s Democratic-led cities to impose local regulations on everything from tenant evictions to employee sick leave is unconstitutional and cannot take effect.

The decision by state District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of Austin, an elected Democrat, is a significant win for progressive leaders in Texas’ biggest cities that want to be able to represent their communities. Critics of the law say it would have taken power from local government and denounced it as “The Death Star.” Texas and its major cities join battles that have flared nationwide over statehouses flexing authority over municipalities.

“That’s tremendous victory for the people in this city because it allows the local leadership to represent the Houstonians that we have an obligation to serve,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a news conference following the ruling.

The state immediately appealed the ruling, according to the Texas attorney general’s office.

“This will stay the effect of the court’s declaration pending appeal,” the office said in a statement to the AP, adding that the law, known as House Bill 2127, would still go into effect on Friday as scheduled.

Republicans muscled the law through the GOP-controlled Legislature over intense opposition from Democrats, labor groups and city leaders. Supporters said the law was needed to preserve Texas’ reputation as a friendly business climate and that a patchwork of ordinances that differ from city to city created unnecessary red tape.

A particularly damaging part of the law, critics argued, was that its full impact was unclear. But they also seized on specific examples, including repeated reminders during a historic summer heat wave that the law would eliminate water breaks at mandatory intervals for outdoor workers. Experts, however, say the law’s effects may be more complicated.

Hours before the ruling, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott took to social media to defend the law.

“Texas small businesses are the backbone of our economy,” Abbott said in a statement posted to X, formerly known as Twitter. “Burdensome regulations are an obstacle to their success. I signed HB2127 to cut red tape & help businesses thrive.”

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Texas judge rules as unconstitutional a law that erodes city regulations in favor of state control