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The city-state fight continues in the 2019 legislative session: Here are bills to look out for

Friday, January 11, 2019 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

When the Texas Legislature reconvened on Jan. 8, lawmakers already had on their desks bills aimed at undoing city of Austin rules.

The city-state conflict is nothing new. Last time they met in 2017, state lawmakers passed bills overturning Austin ordinances affecting ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft, and passed a “sanctuary cities” bill.

Several bills attempting to pre-empt Austin laws did not make it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk, though we’ll likely see iterations of them this year.

Paid Sick Leave

A court case has stalled Austin’s paid sick leave rules, which were set to go into effect in October. The law requires most private employers to give their workers six to eight paid sick days a year.

Most recently, a panel of state judges decided the ordinance is unconstitutional because it violates the state’s minimum wage law.

When City Council members approved the ordinance in February, state Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, promised to overturn it at the Legislature. Workman lost his re-election, but that has not stopped the push to pre-empt the ordinance.

Bills to watch

  • H.B. 222 – State Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) filed a bill prohibiting municipalities from adopting any ordinance requiring employers to provide paid sick leave.

Property Tax Revenue

In 2017, the city of Austin increased its property tax by the maximum allowed by law without having to call an election. The city regularly argues it needs to go to the maximum in order to pay for services.

Bills that cap the amount by which a municipality can increase the property tax revenue it collects year over year are popular to file.

Currently, cities and counties in Texas can collect only 8 percent more in property taxes than they did the year before. But lawmakers have long been interested in lowering this rate, what’s called the rollback rate, and limiting the amount of property taxes cities like Austin can collect.

Bills to watch

  • H.B. 470 – State Rep. Dennis Paul (R-Houston) filed a bill limiting municipalities to a 4 percent maximum increase in property tax revenue year over year.

Short-Term Rentals

The city of Austin limits how short-term rentals, commonly advertised on sites like Airbnb and HomeAway, can operate and has passed an ordinance to phase out short-term rentals where the owner does not live on the property.

The law has been challenged in court as an unconstitutional taking of people’s private property rights – and this may be where the conflict ends.

“Short-term rentals is going to be huge when it does get filed,” says Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League. Sandlin tracks bills affecting cities every legislative session. “I have no doubt that it’ll get filed.”

Bills to watch

  • Nothing yet.

‘Ban The Box’

In 2016, the city of Austin passed new rules prohibiting employers from asking job applicants about their criminal history until the final hiring round.

A bill from then-state Rep. Paul Workman last session would have stopped municipalities from limiting how employers consider job applicants’ criminal records, but it didn’t get out of committee. The city anticipated this fight, stalling enforcement of its own ordinance for two years.

Bills to watch

  • Nothing yet.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT.

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