Making Democracy Work

State-Local Government Relations

historic texas state capitol Dedication Of Fire Fighters Monument Courtesy Texas State Library & Archives

OPEN ISSUE

Position LWV-TX

The League of Women Voters of Texas supports more flexible structures and adequate powers at the local level; comprehensive regional state planning, including regional planning councils with the following provisions:

  • state financial and technical assistance to regional councils

  • flexible government structures for counties and municipalities, together with legislative and financial powers adequate to provide local services

  • authorization for cities and counties to combine efforts on regional problems enabling performance of services without overlapping costs and taxation, in preference to single-purpose districts (i.e. transportation districts, municipal utility districts, etc.)

  • regulation of single-purpose districts by the state with provisions for greater accountability.

Issue Studies and Explanation

Explanation and History: State-Local Relations

The study of state-local relations, which was begun in 1962, was a logical continuation of the League's study of the Texas Constitution. League members had found many governmental problems that did not conform to an established political jurisdiction. This study included research into constitutional and statutory provisions governing general law cities, home rule cities, and other forms of city government. The League learned in detail about county governments; special districts; how the state administered its services in public education, public health, and water resources; and sources of revenue.

In 1964, comprehensive and regional planning were studied in depth, and the League became interested in councils of government and regional planning councils. In 1971, a reevaluation of councils of government was made with one League from each area doing an evaluation of its own council. The result being that the League continued to support councils of government.

During the 1974 Constitutional Convention, the League worked for constitutional revisions that would allow more flexible structures for county and municipal governments.

The League continues to support expanding the authority of county government to carry out urban activities and giving it the option to assume a larger role in meeting county-wide needs and problems. Legislation granting counties some form of ordinance-making power has been introduced in several sessions, and the League has supported efforts which meet our positions.

At the 1985 state League Convention, delegates asked for an explanation of the part of this position dealing with single-purpose districts. Though the recommendation resulted from an interest in municipal utility districts, preliminary research shows that there has been a proliferation of both single and multi-purpose districts since the position was adopted.

The Periodic Program Review Committee recommended to the 1989 state Convention delegates that the State/Local Relations position be dropped. Delegates voted to retain the position. Some local Leagues have used the position extensively in lobbying for combining certain city and county governmental functions and against overlapping services.

In 1999, the Periodic Program Review Committee recommended retention of this position, and added an explanation of "single-purpose districts."

History of LWV-TX Action

2009: The primary focus of the 81st session related to County Authority, often referred to as Ordinance Authority or Land-Use Management. The League of Women Voters concurred with county officials and with many property owners that common-sense regulation is overdue. Because Texas counties have no authority to manage growth and development in unincorporated areas, scarce water supplies are endangered and homeowners sometimes discover that a rock crushing plant is planned just over the property line. The League supported bills which called for one or more of the following: buffer zones between designated areas for residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural use; density limits which take into account the available natural resources and local infrastructure; and impact fees to be paid by developers to offset the increased cost of building additional infrastructure and providing services. At the beginning of the session, LWV published an advocacy paper setting forth and explaining its support for these measures.

In the Hill Country, officials of fifteen county governments (Bandera, Blanco, Burnett, Comal, Edwards, Gillespie, Hays, Kendall, Kerr, Kimble, Llano, Mason, Medina, Real, and Uvalde) began working with other interested local groups (including the League of Women Voters) and Representative Patrick Rose far in advance of the session to gain consensus regarding the need for more authority in these fast-growing, but ecologically fragile areas. HB 3265 provided for a local option vote before authorizing county authority regulations, including setting density limits, establishing set-back lines, and assessing impact fees. A large contingent of county officials from many of these counties came to the Capitol to sign in and/or testify when the bill was presented to the County Affairs committee, as did the League of Women Voters and other interested groups and individuals. Rep. Rose's bill was approved by the committee, other Hill Country legislators signed on, and it was sent to Calendars, where it died.

The Land and Resource Management Committee heard Representative Valinda Bolton's bill, HB 4175, which would have allowed counties with population between 800,000 and 1.3 million to adopt comprehensive land development plans including buffer zones. The bill had broad support from Travis County officials, LWV, and even the local builders association. Because it would apply to unincorporated areas of the most populous counties, it also had the support of several other legislators representing those areas. After stalling for some time in committee, it was sent to Calendars, where it died.

In the Senate, Senator Jeff Wentworth submitted several bills, but didn't present them to committee. Although most activity on this issue addressed regulating growth in the Hill Country and Travis County, some legislation included other areas and issues as well. The only bill which was passed and signed this session was HB 2275 (Raymond) which tweaked the existing regulations in the international border areas.

A bill to regulate billboards along SH 71 by Rep. Bolton made it to the Governor's desk, but was vetoed there. Several other bills by other legislators which would have expanded county government authority, especially in Central Texas, died in committee. Bills which would have regulated noise in unincorporated county areas, bills relating to county authority in specific geographic areas, and bills which related to county authority near military facilities all died in committee.

The ingrained attitude in Texas toward property rights continues to be defined by developers. The realities of water shortages, a county's need to plan for growth, and the rights of the individual homeowner to be protected from incompatible developments continue to be subordinate to business interests and growth. It is difficult to see that changing in the near future.

2011: County land use authority saw no bills voted out of committee. After last session, when a bill made it to the Calendars Committee, the two representatives who most actively supported giving counties the right to regulate growth in unincorporated areas were defeated. Also failing to garner support were bills regulating new signs and noise in unincorporated areas.

(See Also Land Use)