The Texas Senate gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that would require cities to get residents’ approval in areas targeted for annexation.
After an hour-long debate earlier in the day, senators voted 19-12 to advance Senate Bill 6 by state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, with Kel Seliger of Amarillo the only Republican to cross party lines.
SB 6 would require cities in counties with populations above 125,000, which was lowered from 500,000 through an amendment passed Wednesday, to get voter approval for annexation of areas where more than 200 people live.
For annexation areas with fewer than 200 residents, cities would have to circulate a petition and get signatures from more than half of the property owners.
Campbell said SB 6 will provide for a more democratic process and give citizens the right to vote on whether they are annexed.
“This is taxation without representation,” Campbell said as she introduced the bill during floor discussion. “We fought a war over that.”
The bill given initial approval Wednesday is largely identical to a previous version filed in the regular session, which died after Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, filibustered it the night before the session ended.
Opponents of the bill say people who live in unincorporated areas often benefit from city infrastructure, services, schools and businesses yet they don’t have to pay property taxes. Menéndez spoke against the bill Wednesday.
If the bill passes, “Texas would become the only state in the nation that would deny both state financial assistance and annexation authority to its cities,” Menéndez said. “Proponents of annexation cannot point to a single state that has restricted annexation authority without implementing some sort of fiscal assistance program under which the state helps the cities pay for their infrastructure.”
Seliger, the only Republican to vote against the bill, has said he supports local control and allowing local governments to make decisions for themselves.
City officials in Austin, San Antonio and other Texas cities have long stood by annexation as a method of building up their economic bases and managing growth and development.
If SB 6 passes, areas like River Place, which is set to be annexed by the Austin in December, could have a renewed chance at resisting annexation, which residents say unfairly subjects them to higher tax bills without say in the matter.
“It is simply wrong to force citizens who live outside the jurisdiction of a city to be absorbed solely to increase a city’s tax base,” Campbell said in a statement Wednesday after the Senate voted on the bill. “As Texans, we must defend the right to determine who governs us, not let cities determine who they will govern.”
After about three hours of testimony on Sunday, mostly in favor of the bill, the State Affairs Committee approved the bill on a 7-2 party-line vote.
The issue is one of 20 items Gov. Greg Abbott placed on his special session agenda. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, has vowed to pass bills related to all 20 items by the end of the week.
The Senate likely will give final approval to the bill later Wednesday, sending it to the House.