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Local Policy Digest

By Matt Crawley | August 25, 2017
Topics: Local

MultiState's Local Policy Digest explores the top legislative developments from municipalities across the U.S.

Texas Capital

The Texas special session ends without extending state preemption over local cell phone laws.
The Texas Legislature finished its special session last week having passed about half of Governor Greg Abbott's (R) proposed agenda. Among the bills that were not passed was a state preemption bill (TX HB 15 A), which would have banned local governments from “regulating or prohibiting the use of a wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle.” If the bill had passed, it would have forced cities to conform to the new state law (TX HB 62), which sets uniform guidelines for mobile phone usage laws, fixing what Abbott called the “patchwork quilt of regulations” across the state. 

However, when we covered this issue in June, we found that at least 44 Texan cities have ordinances that exceed the new state law's standards. Subsequently, some city officials contend that adopting it into their city codes would make their streets less safe. For example, while state law allows for texting while stopped at a light, Amarillo's ordinance prohibits any use of a mobile device for the purpose of texting while operating a motor vehicle, even when stopped in traffic. This argument was supported by members of the Austin, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi law enforcement agencies, who said that the stricter phone laws are important for public safety. “Holding your phone in your hand is still some kind of distraction,” said Corpus Christi Senior Officer Travis Pace.

Following the end of the special session, the jury is still out on whether or not cell phone preemption will be revisited. In addition to the mobile phone usage laws, Texas legislators also failed to pass additional state preemption bills, including bills related to revenue caps, spending caps, permit super vesting, expedited permitting, and the highly controversial “bathroom bill” (TX SB 3 A).

Denver Skyline

Denver advances an ordinance aimed at protecting immigrants and challenging enforcement. On Monday, the Denver City Council advanced an ordinance (17-0940) amending the city's Public Safety Enforcement Priorities Act, sending it to its final reading. If passed, the ordinance would:

  • Prohibit the detention of individuals beyond their sentence.
  • Prohibit city employees from collecting information on immigration or citizenship status.
  • Prohibit the sharing of any other information about individuals for purposes of immigration enforcement.
  • Prohibit the use of city resources or city cooperation with civil immigration enforcement, including prohibiting providing access to secure areas or facilities.

The ordinance also promises to continue conversations on a range of topics beyond its scope, including the establishment of a legal defense fund for immigrants. According to the ordinance text, its goal is to function as part of an effort to improve community safety. The ordinance says that immigrants have lost faith in public safety agencies, stating that “when immigrants fear city involvement in immigration enforcement, they are less likely to trust police or fire officials, to report emergencies, or to testify or appear at court.”

Critics of the ordinance say it will put the city in contravention of federal law with regards to holding immigrants in jail. “If there is a mandatory detainer request, we believe they do have to comply,” said Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism for Numbers USA.

The ordinance is set to be heard for its final reading and a public hearing on August 28.


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