AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A Travis County district judge ruled Wednesday that the so-called “death star” local preemption bill is unconstitutional, just two days before the law is set to take effect.
District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble ruled from the bench during Wednesday’s lawsuit hearing in favor of the cities suing, which argued state legislators intentionally wrote the law to be vague. Houston brought the lawsuit against the state and El Paso and San Antonio joined the suit as interveners. The City of Austin did not join the lawsuit but voiced support for it.
“The Court DECLARES that House Bill 2127 in its entirety is unconstitutional, void, and unenforceable—facially, and as applied to Houston as a constitutional home rule city and to local laws that are not already preempted,” Judge Gamble wrote in her final judgment.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed the Republican-backed measure into law in June. The law seeks to ban counties and local municipalities from passing ordinances that are inconsistent with state law in areas like agriculture, business and commerce, labor and insurance.
In a statement on social media, House Bill 2127’s author — Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock — said Gamble’s ruling is “not worth the paper it’s printed on.”
“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,” he wrote. “As an aside, given what happened today in the Travis County District Court, I now better understand why the business community was clamoring for the creation of specialized business courts to ensure our state’s laws are fairly upheld and our justice system is preserved.”
Burrows and other supporters said the law will ensure consistency for businesses to achieve their full economic growth by stopping confusion surrounding varying local ordinances across the state.
Attorneys for the cities argued in court Wednesday that the law was vague and designed to “create chaos.”
“A large part of the intention here is to create uncertainty,” said Collyn Peddie, a City of Houston attorney. “Cities are put in the position that they don’t know whether their regulations are preempted or not and they are subject to lawsuits for paying fees.”
Paige Willey, a spokesperson for the Office of Attorney General, told Nexstar that its lawyers have already appealed Judge Gamble’s order, implying the court’s decision might be short-lived.
“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. The Office of the Attorney General has also immediately appealed because the ruling is incorrect. This will stay the effect of the court’s declaration pending appeal. As a result, HB 2127 will go into effect on September 1,” she said in a statement.
It is not immediately clear whether the state’s appeal will stay the court’s final judgement.