Senate filibuster kills annexation bill

5:01 p.m Monday, May 29, 2017 Local
Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, addresses Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, left, during a discussion on the state budget March 28. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

By talking for almost two hours and 20 minutes late Sunday night, a San Antonio Democrat used the Texas Senate’s filibuster rules to kill a bill that would have changed the annexation policies for the state’s largest cities.

Sen. José Menéndez kept the Senate from voting on Senate Bill 715 by speaking beyond the midnight deadline for final passage of bills before the session’s final day.

Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, said her bill — requiring voter approval from annexation areas for cities with at least 500,000 residents — was intended to promote fairness and give people a voice in their future.

Then Menéndez stood to begin speaking, arguing that SB 715 would impede orderly annexation, a tool that helps cities cope with rapid growth.

“Who will bear the burden of this growth? The current residents … who already live inside the city,” he told the Senate.

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Because the House had approved a final version of SB 715 earlier Sunday, the bill would have almost certainly become law without the filibuster, which was an orderly affair that included no attempts to cut his speech short. Campbell even appeared on the Senate floor in pink sneakers, reminiscent of the shoes then-Sen. Wendy Davis wore for her daylong filibuster against abortion regulations in 2013.

The bill is opposed by leaders of the state’s major cities, and the successful filibuster was a rare victory for Austin in a session that was otherwise marked by a series of defeats, including a bill overturning the city’s ride-hailing ordinance.

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said a House amendment to SB 715 would have voided annexation agreements Austin officials had negotiated and signed with several municipal utility districts. “I don’t understand why we as a Legislature would pass legislation that directly interferes with these contracts,” he said in a conversation with Menéndez during the filibuster.

Under current law, a city can annex the equivalent of up to 10 percent of its incorporated land — about 18,000 acres in Austin’s case — from its extraterritorial jurisdiction, the 5-mile area that surrounds city limits, every year.

James Quintero with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, predicted that the annexation fight is far from over.

“Efforts to end forced annexation suffered a setback last night, but this issue is not going away,” said Quintero, director of the foundation’s Center for Local Governance. “Texans across the state are outraged at being locked out of the democratic process and will continue to demand the right to vote on annexation.”

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