This week I would like to share my thoughts on the passage of House Bill 347 ending forced annexation in Texas. Those in the area that know me know this has been a major issue for me for years.
Forced annexation is the practice of bringing rural property into the city limits of a city for the purpose of controlling development and expanding the city’s tax base without the consent of the property owners. This explanation is found on page two of the Texas Municipal Leagues handbook on “Municipal Annexation, The Basics” updated March 2012.
To tell the whole story, we have to go back into early Texas History. Texas fought for and won its independence from Mexico in 1836 because Texans preferred independence. Times were tough and there was always the danger that Mexico would try to retake its territory. In 1845, Texans asked to be annexed into the U.S. and were accepted as the 28th state.
In the early days, a city could only become incorporated by special law through the legislature. In 1858, the legislature passed a law allowing cities to incorporate without special law, which was amended to allow annexation through petition. In other words, property owners had to ask to become part of a city but could not be forced into the city. Not until 1912 was the Texas Constitution amended to allow the creation of home rule cities and unilateral annexation. Very little change occurred until 1963 with the Municipal Annexation Act which laid out specific rules cities had to follow when annexing including the formation of Extra Territorial Jurisdiction now known as ETJ.
Over the years, these new forced annexation laws gave rise to unhappy property owners who rarely, if ever, favored being forced into a city, incurring the city debt and also being forced to live under city rules.
In 1987, Texans began to see changes in annexation laws. Changes continued in 1989, 1993 and 1995, and in 1997 the battle really became heated with groups forming around the state to end forced annexation.
In 1913, a group was formed by cities called The Texas Municipal League. Its purpose was to provide mass buying power for city needs like insurance and legal services. Cities used tax dollars to buy membership into this group. Some time in the 1980s, the TML also moved toward providing lobbyists to lobby the legislature members on issues important to the cities, including the fight against any attempt to stop forced annexation.
In 1999, Senate Bill 89 was proposed. According to the TML’s Handbook on Annexation, revised September 2017, “TML met with annexation reformers (in the legislature) because the League was convinced of a real risk of losing significant authority to annex. TML lobbyists and city officials testified numerous times offering amendments and working to eliminate the more onerous provisions.”
In every session of the legislature since that period, the TML and it’s lobbyist have been there to protect forced annexation against the will of Texas rural property owners.
In 1999, an article by the “Houston Revue” said, “Cities consider any bill requiring a vote on annexation to be punitive. When American colonists wanted a vote on British taxes, many British aristocrats felt such a vote was punitive. It is amazing that the democratic right to vote on being part of a city could be considered punitive.”
The fight continued until 2017 when Senate Bill 715 and House Bill 424, both calling for an end to forced annexation, worked their way through the legislature to die on the very last day of the 85th session.
Governor Abbott considered this a priority along with several other issues and called a special session of the legislature. In this special session, Senate Bill 6 and House Bill 6 were created.
Next week we will pick up on these two bills with the beginning of the end to forced annexation in Texas.