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Legislative agenda passes with Kelly opposed

Tuesday, September 20, 2022 by Jo Clifton

City Council approved a lengthy legislative agenda Thursday night, with only Council Member Mackenzie Kelly voting no.

Though she had proposed an additional task for the city’s legislative team just a few minutes earlier, Kelly voted against adopting the agenda. On Monday, she was visiting Salt Lake City with the Austin Chamber of Commerce, but texted the Austin Monitor this statement: “As a matter of principle I am against the practice of taxpayer-funded lobbying.”

As in previous years, the agenda focuses on protecting the city from efforts to “strip Austin residents of their right to self-governance,” increase taxpayer costs for city services, negatively affect the city’s financial ability to act in the best interest of Austin residents, and impose the burden of paying for state mandates or collecting revenues for the state.

Recognizing that various legislators and state officials have identified issues that might negatively impact Austin and its residents, the agenda approved by Council lists a variety of priorities for the city’s Intergovernmental Relations team. These include opposing the following:

Legislation that attempts to diminish the city’s ability to govern its residents’ investment in municipally owned utilities or that negatively impacts the current status of Austin Energy, including City Council’s authority to set rates.

Legislation that negatively affects the city’s financial ability to act in the best interests of Austin’s residents or reduces the city’s ability to achieve a AAA credit rating, including but not limited to: Imposing a limitation on city expenditures, a more restrictive revenue cap of any type, or an exclusion of new property in the effective rate calculations; or lowering the homestead appraisal cap or expanding the appraisal cap to non-homestead properties.

In addition, the lobby team was instructed to “protect Austin residents’ right to govern themselves and work with their city government to adopt and enforce ordinances that address the health, safety, and public welfare of the community, including but not limited to, the ability to regulate earned sick leave, payday and auto title lending, and fair chance hiring.” The city currently does not have the authority to regulate sick leave, but has some regulations on lending.

The lobby team was also instructed to preserve Austin taxpayers’ property values “by protecting the city’s authority to promote good land use through regulations related to zoning, short-term rentals, billboards, tree preservation, parkland dedication, building codes, annexation and floodplain regulations.”

Perhaps most important of all, the legislative team was instructed to “oppose legislation that prohibits or restricts the city’s current ability to petition the Legislature and its elected representatives on behalf of its residents.” This is an old argument between a variety of Texas cities and other governmental entities as well as the Texas Municipal League.

Council also directed staff to support and/or oppose legislation related to public safety, transportation, health, the environment, government transparency and efficiency, homelessness, education, parks and recreation, as well as a variety of other topics.

Council members suggested a few amendments to be added to the lengthy list of topics set forth in the proposed agenda. However, when Kelly proposed an amendment to the state’s open records law, she ran into opposition from Council Member Leslie Pool and Mayor Steve Adler.

Kelly’s motion was “to support statewide legislation that allows governments to redact the home addresses of residents that are in the possession of the municipality when requested for a public information request.” In explaining why she was requesting that addition to the agenda, Kelly told her colleagues, “So it was brought to my attention that there was a large request that went out with over 60,000 individuals’ home addresses who had written to us in emails in favor or against an item. And so thinking about that and how some of us have experienced individuals visiting our homes, I just wanted to protect the people who live in our city and like to write to us about their opinion and not have their home address released.”

Council Member Paige Ellis seconded the motion and Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison indicated her agreement also. However, Council Member Leslie Pool said she could not vote for such a measure.

“I think that we have some serious opposition to something like this with our open records, open government, accountability, transparency advocates.” She said it seemed likely that the American Civil Liberties Union would oppose such a move and she thought it would not pass. She said, “I don’t want to be shown as voting for this item to take it up to the Legislature.”

Mayor Steve Adler said he was also concerned and would not vote to add the item to the legislative agenda. However, he told Kelly that Council could have a briefing on the subject in the near future.

Brie Franco, who heads up the city’s legislative department, told the Monitor via text that she might make a presentation about the agenda to Council after the elections in November.

Photo by Kumar Appaiah, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here. This story has been changed since publication. A proposed amendment to the agenda from CM Renteria was not adopted.

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