Travis County Judge Declares "Death Star" Bill Unconstitutional

Texas Representative Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) authored House Bill 2127, also known as the "Death Star" bill.
Texas Representative Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) authored House Bill 2127, also known as the "Death Star" bill. Screenshot

This story has been corrected. See correction below.

On Wednesday, a Travis County Judge ruled that a law extensively limiting the local authority of city and county operations challenged by Houston and other Texas cities was unconstitutional.

House Bill 2127, also known as the “Death Star bill,” would have gone into effect on Friday and require local regulation to align with state codes – this would affect city ordinances related to business, labor, property and other local government areas.

Wednesday’s ruling is a win for Houston, San Antonio and El Paso; however, attorneys representing the cities expect the decision to be appealed by the state.

According to Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, this would take the case to the Texas Supreme Court, which will likely overturn the injunction and allow the law to stand.  the law’s language is vague, which would create a lack of clarity surrounding local law and threaten the chances for possible litigation against current city and county ordinances.

Jones said cities will be more affected by the law if it goes into effect as the Texas constitution is written to empower them to a greater extent than counties in drafting and adopting their own local rules regarding issues and policies not directly covered by state law.

“The state allowed the cities to have these different ordinances, the state giveth, and now the state is removing them, so the state taketh,” he said.

According to Jones, Houston and other Texas cities have either started or will begin to evaluate which ordinances they are actively enforcing that are contrary to state law. This is where issues could arise in local municipalities.

“I think there are going to be many ordinances that are in the gray area, and the real question will be when do we start to see residents of these cities challenge or complain about this legislation,” he said. “Because that is when the clock starts ticking for the local jurisdiction to either revise it (the ordinance), remove it or effectively deal with a court case over it.”

Jones said House Bill 2127 allows for an adjustment period, and cities and counties will also have the ability to effectively fight or decide to maintain an ordinance if they don’t think the law applies to it.

One of the first places Houston will likely see this become a major issue is noise ordinances. Those committing the noise, such as a bar, restaurant or homeowners, will be ready to challenge these ordinances at the first moment they can do so.

City residents – who have gotten used to the noise ordinances – will be adversely affected by the removal of the city’s ability to enforce these regulatory efforts to control noise pollution, he said.

Jones expects the law to pressure the 2025 legislative session to develop legislation that corrects all the ignored effects on cities and counties.

Local city and county officials spoke out in support of Wednesday’s court ruling. At the same time, other state leaders, such as Representative Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) – who authored House Bill 2127 – opposed it.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner's Statement in response to Wednesday's court ruling:

"I am thrilled that Houston, our legal department, and sister cities were able to obtain this victory for Texas cities. HB 2127 was a power grab by the Legislature and an unwarranted and unconstitutional intrusion into local power granted to Houston and other home-rule cities by the Texas Constitution. HB 2127 was intended to mire large cities like Houston in endless litigation at taxpayer expense as cities and businesses struggle to discern what HB 2127 meant. As a former legislator, I am appalled by this assault on federalism and Texas cities.

"Home-rule cities like Houston, San Antonio, and El Paso have long been the drivers of the State’s vibrant economy. The Governor’s and Legislature’s ongoing war on such home-rule cities hurts the State and its economy, discourages new transplants from other states, and thwarts the will of Texas voters who endowed these cities in the Texas Constitution with full rights to self-government and local innovation. This self-defeating war on cities needs to end.

While Houston realizes our battle with the State is not over, I will do all I can during my remaining term to ensure that Houstonians govern Houstonians. I hope my successor will do the same."

Precinct 1 County Commissioner Rodney Ellis’s Statement on Wednesday’s court ruling:

“Today's ruling that declares HB 2127, widely known as the "Death Star bill," unconstitutional is a significant victory for democracy and the principles of local governance. The "Death Star Bill" would have undermined the autonomy of local communities and restricted the power of local leaders to protect residents and deliver economic opportunity for all. At its core, this bill was an affront to democracy itself. By attempting to limit the authority of local governments, it aimed to silence the voices of our constituents and hinder our ability to address the unique challenges and opportunities that our communities face. This ruling ensures that important County programs, such as worker safety protections, tenant protections, worker benefits, and fair hiring practices, can continue to thrive without the looming threat of arbitrary restrictions.”
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Faith Bugenhagen is on staff as a news reporter for The Houston Press, assigned to cover the Greater-Houston area.