The Austin Chronicle

The Texas Hammer

Gov. Greg Abbott and cronies feasted on cities in 2017

By Mary Tuma, December 29, 2017, News

With a bull's-eye on Austin – and other progressive municipalities – Gov. Greg Abbott and GOP politicians took unprecedented aim at cities this legislative session and throughout the year. Abbott didn't mince words in February when he declared, "Texas will hammer Travis County" as retribution for Sheriff Sally Hernandez's ICE policies (see "ICE Attacks!"). And lawmakers went after a bevy of city rules and ordinances throughout the first half of the year, targeting local ordinances regarding ridesharing; affordable housing; heritage tree safeguards; bag bans; short-term rentals; and LGBTQ protections. "This is Austin-bashing on steroids," local state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez told us earlier this year. "I have not seen anything quite like this in the 20 years I've worked at the Capitol."

The state vs. city battle gave critics another reason to deem Texas Republicans grade A hypocrites: While touting "local control," they simultaneously reversed the decisions of voters and democratically elected public officials. How'd they square away the contradiction? By calling their anti-city bills a defense of ostensible "liberty." In reality, Republicans don't mind local control so long as city rules fall in line with their own values.

When the dust settled, the GOP went home with some wins in their fight to undo local regulations. One glaring victory is the successful attempt to repeal Austin's transportation network company regulations, which brought Uber and Lyft back to town. "As your governor, I will not allow Austin, Texas, to California-ize the Lone Star State," Abbott said of our new law. The Lege also pre-emptively blocked a proposed effort to encourage affordable housing in Austin through House Bill 1449, which killed the possibility of instituting linkage fees (a charge placed on all development that would go toward affordable housing units), as recommended by the mayor's Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities, and with it banned a tool to alleviate a city suffering from gentrification and a lack of low-cost dwellings. "It's an opportunity that many people loved that now won't be realized," Mayor Steve Adler said in June.

The good news is that the GOP didn't get 'em all. Spared on the chopping block were efforts to undo the city's rules against the use of disposable plastic shopping bags; limit short-term rental regulations; and do away with fair chance hiring (as vocally supported by City Council Member Ellen Trox­clair), which requires private employers to delay asking about a job applicant's criminal conviction history until a conditional offer of employment is made, passed by Council just last year. And of course, the notorious "bathroom bill" – bigoted legislation meant to demonize transgender residents and nix local LGBTQ anti-discrimination bathroom policies like those found in Austin – was defeated by dedicated activists and allies.

It's safe to predict the Texas vs. Austin saga will continue and resume in full force during the 2019 legislative session. As Adler reiterated several times this year, he's ready for the fight.

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