A bill that would have required a vote before cities could annex new areas, which sailed through the state Senate and was expected to do the same in the House, hit a snag Monday after a Democratic lawmaker raised a technical issue.
Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, who opposes the bill, succeeded in getting it sent back to committee as a delaying tactic.
Moody took issue with a provision, meant to exempt Lubbock, that would prevent the law from applying to cities of a certain size as of the 2010 census. He said tying the provision to a particular census could run afoul of House rules and the state Constitution.
“This was a technical error within the bill that allowed us to shut it down today,” Moody said. “I don’t think it keeps it from passing, ultimately, but this gives us time to work on it and negotiate around it.”
The bill now returns to the House Committee on Land and Resource Management.
The measure, which is a House committee substitute version of Senate Bill 6 by Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, would require cities in counties with populations above 500,000 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 get more than half of the affected property owners to sign a petition in favor.
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 the bill passes, areas such as River Place, which is set to be annexed by Austin in December, could have a renewed chance at resisting annexation, which residents say unfairly subjects them to higher tax bills without a say in the matter.
The Senate passed the bill in late July on a largely party-line vote, with Kel Seliger of Amarillo the only Republican to vote against the bill.
If the House ultimately passes a version that is different from the Senate bill, the Senate would either have to vote on the new version or hash out its differences in conference committee before the legislation could go to the governor’s desk.
Before the setback Monday, the bill had the prospect of being first on Gov. Greg Abbott’s priority list to make it out of both chambers.
RELATED: Gov. Abbott calls for sweeping special session on conservative goals
Moody called the bill “bad policy” and said he opposes it because it hurts cities’ ability to have the costs of services and infrastructure it provides offset by people who live outside the city but use those amenities.
“There are communities outside the municipality that benefit from services provided by the municipality and don’t want to pay their fair share,” Moody said. “And that doesn’t bode well for cities, for larger cities.”
The House sponsor of the bill, Dan Huberty, R-Houston, declined to comment after adjournment Monday, saying he was “working through it.”
On the floor, as Huberty introduced the bill, he reiterated a common mantra of supporters of the legislation: “Citizens have rights; cities don’t.”
“We’re asking for citizens in those impacted areas to have a right to vote if they want to be impacted,” he said.