Many issues are best left to the Texas Legislature.
Texas gun owners have enjoyed a strong preemption law that prohibits cities and counties from regulating most aspects of gun ownership and usage. The preemption law was first passed in 1987 and it has been improved periodically over the years. Freshman Senator Don Huffines has filed SB343 that will extend this concept so that Texans are protected from all patchwork, conflicting regulations that make it quite easy to unintentionally violate a local ordinance or regulation. While SB343 is not directly related to firearms, it is much-needed protection for Texans and some of the regulations it would prevent are at least tangentially related to guns.
SB343 is very simple and straightforward. If the Texas Legislature has enacted a law or rule concerning a subject, then local governments cannot adopt ordinances, rules or regulations that conflict with those laws or rules, or that are more stringent than the State law or rule. There is one exception to this limitation; if the State law allows local governments to adopt regulations, then they can do so as long as those rules do not exceed the authority set out in the enabling statute.
Undoubtedly, local officials are going to scream “local control” is paramount. Unfortunately, “local control” is all too often code for local tyranny. Cities, counties and other units of local government must have the authority to regulate certain activities in their jurisdictions, but there is no reason for unlimited authority. Indeed, Texas law does not authorize cities or counties to create their own version of a Penal Code, or vehicle licensing provisions. Allowing a patchwork of local ordinances and regulations is confusing and unfair to Texans who could inadvertently violate a city ordinance in San Antonio (knife ordinances) doing something that is perfectly legal in every other city and town in Texas. Cell phone usage is another example. Since 2009, it has been unlawful to talk on a handheld cell phone in an active school zone, but the Texas legislature has refused to pass a law against texting and driving. Nonetheless, some cities have ordinances against talking on a cell phone while driving, even when hands-free devices are used. Some prohibit texting while driving even after the Texas Legislature refused to pass just such a law.
It is reasonable to expect a citizen to determine local ordinances and regulations concerning matters that are unique to a particular city or county such as zoning restrictions, public park policies and rules, local building codes, and permits required to host an event. It is unreasonable to expect a citizen to check to see if a city has adopted an ordinance on matters already addressed by the Texas Legislature.
Sen. Huffines’ SB343 is an excellent Bill and one addition could make it even better. The preemption should extend to subject matter concerning which the Texas legislature has considered refused to regulate.