The Texas House gave preliminary approval to a bill Sunday to limit cities’ ability to annex outlying areas without resident approval, a measure that was opposed by the city of Austin and other major municipalities.
Senate Bill 715, authored by Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, and carried in the House by Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, would require cities to get a majority of residents in areas proposed for annexation to agree to join the city or vote to do so in an election.
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.
The Senate approved the bill in April. The House voted 104-34 on Sunday and is expected to take a final vote Monday. Before it heads to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk, the Senate will have to sign off on changes made in the House or request for a conference committee to negotiate a compromise.
Leaders from cities across the state opposed the bill because it would limit their options in planning and zoning and because it would allow residents that benefit from their proximity to cities to avoid contributing to their tax bases.
“Areas around the edges of town are urbanizing and continuing to attract new development,” Virginia Collier, an Austin city planner, previously told the American-Statesman. “Annexation is a tool to coordinate with local service providers to meet the communities’ needs.”
Huberty, however, said that the Legislature should instead side with residents who, in some cases, intentionally moved outside of cities.
“Do we represent the mayors and city councils, or do we represent our constituents?” he said.
The most vocal opponents of the bill on Sunday were Democrats from the San Antonio area who said the bill conflicts with the interests of military installations in Bexar County that preferred for the land around the bases to be regulated by the city.
Others unsuccessfully attempted to limit the bill to Huberty’s Harris County, where the combination of Houston’s aggressive annexation policy and its lack of zoning have caused controversies.
“We’ve got cities and counties that are doing this right,” Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, said. “Tell me that this is not a Harris County problem.”