By James Quintero and Lucas Christiansen
Forced annexation appears headed for the dustbin of history.
Prior to 2017, Texas cities could unilaterally poach property just outside their official boundaries. The conscripted property owners were usually forced to swallow higher taxes, tougher regulations, and old public debts. That didn’t sit well with a lot of folks, including a big, bipartisan group of state lawmakers who pushed for change during the last special session—and got it done.
The legislation that lawmakers rallied around was Senate Bill 6 or the Texas Annexation Right to Vote Act, and just like the name implies, it gave Texans the right to vote before a city could annex. No longer could officials simply gobble up properties without their owners’ consent. Officials must ask for permission first.
Well, in some cases at least.
As a matter of political compromise, lawmakers limited the scope of SB 6 so that only some Texans were protected. For instance, if you live in a county with 500,000 population and above, you have the right to vote on annexations. Or if you live in a county that’s held a successful opt-in election, your voice counts too. But everyone else is still subject to the old system.
This two-tiered approach means that some Texans’ property rights are respected while others are subject to the whims of city planners. That’s not good public policy, nor is it something that lawmakers should allow to linger. And fortunately, it doesn’t look like they will.
Several bills are making their way through the legislative process right now that would expand SB 6’s protections statewide. In other words, every rural property owner in Texas may soon have the right to vote on the question of municipal annexation, no matter where they live. The most prominent bills that would accomplish this are House Bill 347 and Senate Bills 408, 745, and 1432.
Of the bunch, the bill that’s made it the furthest so far is HB 347 which, according to the Legislative Budget Board, would “eliminate unilateral annexations in 280 home rule cities” and prevent the policy from taking root elsewhere. It has already been heard in committee and voted out by lawmakers. Its next stop is the House floor, where there is sure to be a lively debate. As for the other bills, none have received a hearing just yet.
Which bill finally passes is anyone’s guess, but what is clear is that it’s time to finally end forced annexation in Texas. It’s unacceptable that some Texans living in one part of the state have their rights respected while another group of Texans living elsewhere are subject to something akin to taxation without representation. Texans everywhere deserve to have some say on who governs over them.
And perhaps soon they will. A lot of the same passion and interest that helped push SB 6 across the finish line last session is still around. If lawmakers and property owners are persistent this session, there’s a good shot that Texans can be rid of the scourge of forced annexation once and for all.
That’d be a big win for liberty-lovers in the Lone Star State.
James Quintero leads the Think Local Liberty project at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lucas Christiansen is a research associate at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He may be reached at email@example.com.