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Texas ‘Death Star’ Bill Blocking Cities from Protecting Employees Ruled Unconstitutional

22 Sep, 2023 Liz Carey

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Austin, TX (WorkersCompensation.com) – A new law in Texas aimed at preventing cities from enacting legislation that, would protect employees during extreme heat among other things, was declared unconstitutional at the end of August, but still went into effect on Sept. 1.

HB 2127, called the “Death Star” bill, was designed to prevent cities within the state from enacting policies that may be stricter or more progressive than the state’s. But on August 30, State District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble, presiding over a lawsuit by the city of Houston, ruled the legislation unconstitutional.

In that case, the city said the state’s home-rule cities, like Houston, have derived their authority to govern themselves and to regulate their residents, local businesses and affairs from the constitution and their constituents, and not the legislature.

The bill would prevent local governments from making rules that go beyond what legislators have decided in areas like agriculture, business, finance, insurance, labor, occupations and property codes.

“Unless expressly authorized by another statute, a municipality or county may not adopt, enforce or maintain an ordinance, order, or rule regulating conduct in a field of regulation that is occupied by a provision of this code,” the legislation, officially known as the Texas Regulatory Consistency Act, said.

The law prevents the cities of Austin and Dallas from enacting ordinances passed there that required mandatory water breaks for workers in extreme heat. The bill was signed in June, just as triple digit heat settled over the state for the summer. This year, at least two delivery drivers, an electrician and a mail carrier have died, allegedly due to heat-related causes.

In late August, Christopher Begley, a 57-year-old UPS driver, died after collapsing during his delivery route outside of Dallas. Co-workers and union leaders said they believe his death was heat related. Begley fell sick on the job on August 23. Supervisors said he was provided with water and a cool place to rest but declined medical attention. Four days later, on Sunday, Begley died.

“We are saddened by the loss of our driver Christopher Begley and extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends,” UPS said in a statement. “We are cooperating with the authorities as they continue to investigate the cause of death. We train our people to recognize the symptoms of heat stress, and we respond immediately to any request for help.”

In June, 66-year-old USPS mail carrier Eugene Gates collapsed during his Dallas route, and died later that week.

OSHA is investigating both incidents. The agency told NBC News has opened more than 20 heat-related workplace fatalities in Texas this year alone.

Arturo Michel, City Attorney for Houston, said the judge’s ruling will give cities ammunition if any local ordinances are challenged under the law.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the ruling would help cities.

“The Governor’s and Legislature’s ongoing war on such home-rule cities hurts the State and its economy, discourages new transplants from other states, and thwarts the will of Texas voters who endowed these cities in the Texas Constitution with full rights to self-government and local innovation,” Turner said in a statement. “This self-defeating war on cities needs to end.”

Texas state Reps. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) and state Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) sponsored the legislation.

“The judgment today by a Democrat Travis County District Judge is not worth the paper it’s printed on,” Burrows said in a statement. “The Texas Supreme Court will ultimately rule this law to be completely valid. The ruling today has no legal effect or precedent and should deter no Texan from availing themselves of their rights when HB2127 becomes law on September 1, 2023.”

The National Federation of Independent Business Texas said the ruling was unconstitutional.

"The Texas Constitution makes perfectly clear that the Texas Legislature can preempt local ordinances," Annie Spilman, NFIB's Texas director, said in a statement. "Mere opposition to the scope of the law, does not make the law unconstitutional. … Instead of filing frivolous lawsuits against the State and trying to regulate small businesses out of existence, local officials should focus on addressing the concerns of their constituents."

It is unclear how many local ordinances will become affected by the new state law. However, labor groups praised the ruling. The court’s decision would allow “critical, life-saving local policies to remain in place … reflecting the important of local leaders being able to respond to their communities’ urgent needs,” Texas AFL-CIO and Local Progress Texas said in a statement.

Texas Attorney General’s office said it has appealed the decision.

"While the judge declared HB 2127 unconstitutional, she did not enjoin enforcement of the law by Texans who are harmed by local ordinances, which HB 2127 preempts," Paige Willey, the director of communications for the Texas Attorney General’s office told Business Insider. "The Office of the Attorney General has also immediately appealed because the ruling is incorrect.”


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    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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