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Travis County judge rules Texas' 'Death Star' law is unconstitutional

Gabriel C. Pérez

A Texas law that would have undone local laws was ruled unconstitutional by a Travis County state judge Wednesday, days ahead of when it was slated to take effect.

The law would limit cities' abilities to write laws that don't conform with state laws that regulate transportation, agriculture, labor and property codes, among other areas. Houston, San Antonio and El Paso sued the state over the law, referred to as the "Death Star" bill, arguing it eliminated cities' abilities to govern themselves.

Cities with Democratic leadership have argued the law is an attempt by the GOP-led state Legislature to overrule protections, though conservative-leaning cities also signed on in support of the lawsuit.

Arguing for Houston, Collyn Peddie said the law was "nebulous" and that cities couldn't reasonably expect to know which of their local rules would run afoul it.

"There is nothing in American jurisprudence like this. I've never seen anything like this," she said. "The law professors who were helping us have never seen anything like this."

Charles Eldred, who argued on behalf of the Texas attorney general, said there were "insurmountable ... obstacles" for the case — namely, that Texas can have broad laws that effect city governance — and that Houston had no right to sue the state over the law.

The AG's office also argued unsuccessfully that the Texas Supreme Court has sided with the state in similar instances — most notably when it sided with Texas over a lawsuit against Laredo's single-use bag ban in 2018.

That didn't sway Travis County District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble.

"I do believe that their argument is the right one," she said, referring to the cities' claims.

If appealed by the state, the case would go before the state's Third Court of Appeals in Austin.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Copyright 2023 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Andrew Weber is a freelance reporter and associate editor for KUT News. A graduate of St. Edward's University with a degree in English, Andrew has previously interned with The Texas Tribune, The Austin American-Statesman and KOOP Radio.