AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A bill to assert the state’s preeminence over many local regulations passed the Texas House on Wednesday and is likely to be signed into law this legislative session.
The Texas Regulatory Consistency Act is intended to standardize regulations between cities. It would nullify many local ordinances and prohibit municipalities from adopting ordinances that relate to broad areas of law the state already addresses. These include the state codes relating to labor, business and commerce, agriculture, finance, insurance, natural resources, occupations, and property.
The bill’s author, Lubbock Republican Dustin Burrows, said the bill will save small businesses from navigating often confusing and costly regulations.
“We want those small business owners creating new jobs and providing for their families, not trying to navigate a Byzantine array of local regulations that twist and turn every time they cross city limit sign,” he said.
The National Federation of Independent Businesses said their members are often burdened with complicated compliance requirements that impact their business.
“The compliance nightmare is just unimaginable,” State Director of the NFIB Annie Spilman said. “Anything that is regulating a small business across county lines, across this state, comes from a one stop shop… not 1,600 jurisdictions all across the state of Texas.”
Just blocks from the state capitol, the capital city argues local governments are the best entity to govern their communities.
“We used to believe that the closer you got to voters, the more you understood their issues and represented their interests,” Austin City Council member Ryan Alter said. “Now that cities have done things that some state legislators don’t agree with, they’ve decided that they know best.”
The City of Austin is particularly concerned for their Fair Chance Hiring ordinance, which prohibits companies with 15 or more employees from refusing to hire an applicant based on their criminal history. Under this bill, that kind of labor regulation would be reserved for state and federal governments.
“We as a community have decided that we think it’s important for individuals to have the best opportunity to gain employment if they have a criminal history. And that’s something that the state is trying to take away,” Alter said. “If a community wants to advance a certain value, then we should have that ability to do so. Just because certain state lawmakers don’t agree with it doesn’t mean that they should be able to impose their values on somebody 500 miles away.”
The NFIB rejects the argument that the bill would harm employees or hamstring local governments. They argue many of the strongest protections are already mandated by state and federal agencies.
“Worker protections and worker safety is number one for a small business owner,” Spilman said. “Their employees are their family, they want to take care of them. If we’re going to do anything that is going to be any sort of worker protection, it needs to be one set of standards that is passed here so that all employers in the state have to pass it.”
Alter also mentioned the city’s requirement relating to minimum rest break requirements for construction workers. NFIB cited federal OSHA requirements they say already offer those protections.
Alter believes the law will pass and said the city will try to preserve as many regulations as they can.
“There will be things we’re just not going to be able to do anymore,” he said.