In Texas politics, lies travel like one-day express mail from Austin to the rest of the state, while truth often lumbers behind on the back of a slow horse.
You’ve probably read the news about the horrors House Bill 2127 soon could inflict upon the Lone Star State: “water breaks banned,” “hairstyle discrimination,” which have led to it being called “the Death Star bill.”
Now, to be sure, none of those headlines are true. HB 2127, also known as the Regulatory Consistency Act, won’t lead to hairstyle discrimination. After all, this year, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 567 prohibiting hairstyle discrimination statewide.
And employers are already obligated to provide water “adequate to meet the health and personal needs of each employee.” See OSHA regulation 1915.88(b)(1-3):
- 1915.88(b)(1) — The employer shall provide potable water for all employee health and personal needs and ensure that only potable water is used for these purposes.
- 1915.88(b)(2) — The employer shall provide potable drinking water in amounts that are adequate to meet the health and personal needs of each employee.
- 1915.88(b)(3) — The employer shall dispense drinking water from a fountain, a covered container with single-use drinking cups stored in a sanitary receptacle, or single-use bottles. The employer shall prohibit the use of shared drinking cups, dippers, and water bottles.
But hey, who needs facts when you have sound bites?
Luckily, Texans aren’t the folks big city politicians like to bamboozle. Now, I am not a small business owner, but when more than 18 different business associations say we need change, it’s time to take notice.
More than 99.8% of businesses in our state are small businesses. Yet, a broken windowpane of complex city ordinances threatens one of the things they value most — stability. The last thing they need is to “be subject to the whims of rogue regulators,” as Annie Spielman, the state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, puts it.
To put this in context, in Austin alone, the municipal code contains 30 chapters. Houston comes in at 47 chapters. Not to be outdone, the city of Bryan has 140 chapters.
Navigating these complex local requirements costs time and resources, something that is often in short supply during this era of record inflation, labor shortages, and supply chain disruptions. Name two things that don’t come cheap in Texas: compliance officers and business attorneys.
Aren’t the 263,000 regulatory restrictions imposed by Texas and the roughly 1.08 million imposed by the federal government on individuals and businesses enough?
Last year, Texas led the nation in job creation. But with 79% of small business owners worried about a possible recession and 72% concerned about inflation, our position is far from guaranteed. Laws such as HB 2127 are a bulwark against intrusive municipal regulations.
HB 2127 helps businesses by making laws more uniform across the state. It preempts municipal codes in several important fields, such as natural resources, labor codes, and agriculture. This means running a business in Houston will be just as easy as running a business in College Station, which is to say a lot of hard work.
But that work shouldn’t be overburdened by zealous municipalities and draconian ordinances—such as the Austin sick leave ordinance that the Texas Public Policy Foundation successfully defeated in court in 2018.
Instead of creating problems for business owners, local governments should focus on solving some. Take, for example, homelessness in Travis County, which increased by 134% from 2018 to 2022. Yet big cities seem content with regulating all but the largest companies out of their ZIP codes.
In the end, calling HB 2127 “the Death Star Bill” seems to be yet another example of clever sloganeering. After all, I’m not sure if you could call struggling local businesses “the Empire,” but with HB 2127, they’re ready to strike back against big city government.
How’s that for a new hope?