During the 87th Legislature’s regular session, state lawmakers considered multiple bills on extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) reform. While some of the more ambitious proposals—like House Bill 2573 and Senate Bill 1992—did not survive the process, one good piece of legislation—Senate Bill 1168—was indeed signed into law last month by the Gov. Greg Abbott. The bill represents a solid step forward.
Effective immediately, communities that have either been disannexed or whose voters have rejected a municipal annexation attempt in an election are no longer subject to fees and fines imposed by the sponsoring city. This is an important first step that will protect residents against regulation without representation and promote democratic ideals.
After all, no free person should be subject to rules and regulations imposed unilaterally by a set of governors they didn’t elect, especially when those persons have made it clear that they want no such thing.
But there’s still more work to be done.
ETJ residents benefitting from the new law are still subject to a range of other municipal rules and regulations, like being forced to observe tree preservation ordinances, signage requirements, and fireworks restrictions. What’s more, residents in communities unaffected by the bill are, of course, still subject to every type of fine, fee, rule, and regulation. In both instances, cities still have too much authority over those who have no voice in the process.
To remedy this situation, the Legislature should build upon the progress made this session and rein in ETJ authority even more—perhaps even abolish the concept altogether.
One option is to expand the prohibition on fines and fees in Senate Bill 1168 to include all types of municipal regulations. This would prevent cities from imposing any kind of rule on people that have made it clear, through a disannexation or a failed election attempt, that they want nothing to do with the city. That would give residents in these areas their freedom back.
The Legislature could also extend the new law’s prohibitions on fee and fines to every part within the ETJ. Hence, this proposal would ban all types of municipal fines and fees everywhere in the ETJ, thus creating one standard for every resident.
Of course, the best reform that lawmakers could implement would be to abolish ETJs entirely. In light of the involuntary annexation reforms of 2017 and 2019, cities need not wield this type of authority over residents who are outside its corporate boundaries.
Plus, it’s un-Texan that cities are denying ETJ residents their opportunity to participate in the political process while also subjecting them to rules and regulations. This system is inconsistent with the republican form of government recognized in the Texas Constitution. Texans deserve local governments that work for their interests, and abolishing ETJs is a step in that direction.
These are just a few ways that the Legislature can improve upon the current system. There are many more of course, but the goal of any future legislation ought to be reining in city authority while protecting the property rights of those voting with their feet.
At the next available opportunity, state lawmakers should do their best to get this done.