Texas is known for having a great business environment, mostly because a bevy of corporations are relocating to the state. It’s got no income tax, pretty good schools, decent weather, and plenty of sights and sports for the average person to enjoy. Its roads are constantly being worked on, but that’s what happens when your state is growing and growing faster than ever. It’s relatively freedom-loving too, but with the growth comes the danger of non-freedom loving politics moving in. There’s a reason why “Don’t California My Texas” shirts can be bought online. Even the Texas Republican Party did their own version of the slogan during the 2014 campaign.
Texas Republicans have also decided to fight back the only way they believe they can: through regulatory efforts on the state level. It’s a disappointing decision, especially because there are truly better ways to go about fighting overregulation. There’s also the danger of the thing completely backfiring if Texas turns purple, which is probably going to happen at some point, even if the GOP swears everything is fine.
The biggest example of this is the fight against regulations against Uber and Lyft. Texas got involved in the regulations because it was obvious the taxi industry was trying to beat innovation through their pals in city governments. Former Dallas City Manager A.C. Gonzalez had to apologize to the City Council because it was revealed he worked with Yellow Cab in 2013 to write an ordinance which would have made it extremely hard for Uber and Lyft to operate. Austin and San Antonio had the two companies briefly leave the cities because they didn’t want to comply with city regulations. Texas truly had the opportunity to do something impressive: completely de-regulate all ride-sharing, taxi and limo services. Dallas Senator Don Huffines told Watchdog he wanted to see a completely level playing field and deregulation would also prevent people from “coming down to the state Legislature and legislating your competition away.” Instead, they shifted the regulatory power from the city to the state. It was a missed opportunity because it would have completely thrown the idea of regulatory power on its ears.
There’s also Texas’ new law against texting while driving. Governor Greg Abbott praised the law, but thought it didn’t go far enough because it doesn’t contain a pre-emption clause which renders any city law on phones moot. He’s hoping the legislature will pass a law pre-empting municipal laws during the special session. This is ridiculous, not because cities and counties should make their own laws on phones, but because it uses a similar tactic used by the ride-sharing law. Texas Republican lawmakers are hoping to put the power in their hands under the belief they know better than Democrats. The state could try to just make the city laws illegal, but maybe it’s best for the local populace to fight against the local laws. TxDOT does a public awareness campaign on their digital billboards reminding people not to text or talk and drive, and the phone companies have their own awareness campaigns. The fact car technology is also catching up to cell phone technology means these laws on texting while driving or using a handheld cell phone while driving eventually become moot. That’s the key word…eventually. Drivers tend to hold onto their cars for at least 12 years, which means it might not be until 2026-2030 for a large majority of Americans to have vehicles which all have a bluetooth or the ability to voice text. This doesn’t mean Texas or other states should ban texting or talking as a short term fix. Yes, it means there will still be stories about awful texting-related crashes, but governments should show patience and not try to regulate the behavior of individuals.
Then there’s this stupid fight over bathroom access. Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick swear it’s all about keeping women and children safe from predators. Patrick also said it was about common decency and common sense. Most opponents of Texas’ bathroom bill suggest it’s because, “those dang social conservatives just hate transgenders,” and there may be a teeny bit of truth to that. The reality is more along the lines of wanting to keep cities from passing ordinances like the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance which applied to private businesses and housing. San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and Plano have similar ordinances. The same could be said with Fort Worth ISD which added a rule which would have allowed teachers to not tell parents if their child was transgender.
Abbott suggested the best way to solve the issue is to pass a bill which would make it illegal for political subdivisions like cities and school districts to pass laws catering to protect a certain class of individual. The problem is Houston voters overturned HERO and Fort Worth ISD rightly changed their guidelines after the public and parents spoke out. This strikes me as a better way to do it, especially when it involves children and private businesses. There’s really no reason for any government to get involved in what private businesses do. Abbott’s suggestion might be more palatable if it didn’t apply to school districts, and allowed cities and counties to set their own rules on hiring by city/county departments and government-owned buildings.
Texas is definitely better than California, but the state still has plenty of issues when it comes to overregulation, and getting involved in issues it doesn’t need to. It’s backwards thinking for a state that likes to portray itself as being pro-freedom and pro-free market. All this state pre-emption could end up completely blowing up in the Texas GOP’s face if Democrats end up getting control of the state legislature or governor’s mansion. Yes, Texas has enjoyed GOP leadership for 20 odd years. But as more and more people move to Texas from California or New York or Illinois, there’s no guarantee the state’s politics will stay deep red for decades to come. This means the state could start enacting more California-style laws if there was suddenly a switch in power, and given the fact more and more big cities are “going blue” that could happen. Texas lawmakers need to think about more freedom-oriented rules, instead of trying to just take more power.