Texas ‘Death Star’ bill threatens to destroy hard-won protections across the state

On May 24, the Texas Legislature sent HB 2127, the “Texas Regulatory Consistency Act,” to the governor’s desk. The name of the bill makes it seem as if there is a problem with inconsistent regulations that needs to be handled. In reality, the bill is not about “consistency” at all. It is an unapologetic, full-blown assault on the hard-won labor, environmental, and other local protections by an unpopular state government seeking to roll back workers’ rights by decades.

The right-wing backers of the bill claim that various local regulations established in many cities across the state make it difficult for businesses to function because of the “inconsistencies involved in needing to navigate a web of varying arbitrary laws.” The bill would block cities and counties in Texas from passing any new regulations that are not already outlined within Texas state law.

What they mean is that they want workers living in extreme poverty with no safety regulations or labor protections. Local laws that would be preempted include mandatory paid sick leave, mandated water breaks for construction workers and tenants’ rights laws.

The entirety of the bill deals with overarching “field preemptions,” which will amend current statutes in the Texas Agricultural Code, Labor Code, Property Code and other sweeping portions of Texas state law. All these “preemption clauses” state that any city ordinances that are outside the boundaries of the various Texas State Codes are “null and void.”

Additional clauses give citizens the authority to sue individual politicians or city governments, which pass any ordinances that violate this bill. This mirrors “bounty laws,” such as SB 8 that the state has used to attack abortion seekers and LGBTQ people.

Texas politics are often framed in a false dichotomy of cities with “progressive” local governments versus the arch-reactionary state government, which allegedly has its base of support in rural areas. While the state government is without a doubt reactionary and anti-worker, the rest of this formulation doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

In reality, workers across the state — in small towns and large cities alike — have fought to protect their labor rights, as well as the right to clean air and water. Even the town of Denton, which then leaned solidly Republican, passed a fracking ban to protect their environment in 2014. Governor Greg Abbott stepped in to quash this ban, citing a “patchwork of local regulations”: the exact phrase being used today to justify the “Death Star” bill.

When municipal governments pass these regulations — which are won, not granted from above — the state government, representing the most right-wing faction of U.S. corporate power, tries to step in to quash it.

So what is at stake if the “Death Star” bill takes effect?

Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston have at some point passed their own laws guaranteeing a minimum amount of paid sick leave for all workers — one of which was challenged and eventually struck down by the Texas Supreme Court in 2020, just before the deadly pandemic when paid sick leave could have saved countless lives. San Antonio also recently passed a “Tenants’ Bill of Rights,” which forces landlords to implement minimum safety standards as well as reduce the financial strain on renters. All of these cities have laws that set higher minimum wages for certain classes of workers. While these are extremely inadequate and unevenly enforced, they are still important stopgaps to prevent total financial ruin for many workers. Cities also have forms of unemployment protection that the state lacks.

Labor unions have condemned the bill. The AFL-CIO stated the bill would “destroy ordinances and rules and prevent future ones on worker rights, workplace safety, consumer protection, and much more.” Richard Levy, president of the Texas AFL-CIO, added: “There are so few protections for workers in this state. We are the deadliest state to work in. The Legislature has no business actively stripping away what protections we have and further threatening our health and safety.”

State legislators do not even have appropriate legal justification to pass such a bill as it contradicts the Texas State Constitution. It would undermine the Home Rule provision of the Texas Constitution, which guarantees more than 350 cities in Texas autonomy and authority to self-govern and pass statutes that are not already strictly prohibited by the Texas Constitution and state legal codes. State Senator Brandon Creighton, who also authored a sister bill Senate Bill 814, which has died in committee, admitted to this during one of the bill’s working sessions, and has said that even though a constitutional amendment is necessary in order to legally enact this new bill, it will “not be done.” The ruling class is ignoring the obvious contradictions within their own system, as they try to roll back workers’ rights by any means necessary.

It is more important than ever to organize the working class against reactionary state overreach. Whatever the fate of local protections, since these protections have been won by workers’ struggle, the only way to defend them and advance a truly pro-worker agenda is through intensifying this struggle across the state and country. Only an organized and independent movement led by the working class can beat back this anti-worker offensive!

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