As Gov. Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott and other Texas officials continue to wrangle with the federal government over issues like environmental regulations and health care reform, state lawmakers could widen the conflict with bills in the 2013 legislative session that would push back against perceived federal overreach.
Two recently filed bills deal with homeland security. HB 149 addresses portions of the National Defense Authorization Act, and HB 80 takes on searches conducted by the Transportation Security Administration. Both bills challenge federal authority in Texas.
State Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, who filed the NDAA measure, said other “pushback” bills are likely to emerge in the upcoming session, particularly regarding regulatory bodies like the Environmental Protection Agency. Such bills could challenge EPA emissions standards for businesses, among other regulations.
“I think the term is ‘leave Texas alone,’” Larson said. “We’ll live in the overall guidelines, but don’t overreach.”
The pushback measures mirror a theme among conservative lawmakers from last session. In 2011, the Select Committee on State Sovereignty was created to deal with issues of states' rights. State Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, chairman of the committee, pushed back against federal health care reform, authoring a bill to keep Texans from being required to purchase insurance under the reforms. The bill stalled in committee.
With faceoffs on health care, security and the environment continuing between Texas and the federal government, the State Sovereignty Committee is poised to see plenty of action this session.
Two sections of the National Defense Authorization Act in Texas are being challenged in Larson’s bill. Critics say those portions of the law make it possible for a person suspected of terrorist activity to be imprisoned without trial for an indefinite period of time. Larson’s bill calls for misdemeanor charges for federal and state officials who attempt to detain Texans without due process.
Larson said the NDAA provisions are “a clear violation of the Texas and U.S. Constitutions.” Due to the provisions, “the federal government doesn’t have to go through due process the way it’s supposed to under the Constitution, A lot of people are concerned with the long-term implications,” he said.
Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, which has been involved in the legal fight to defend the NDAA, declined to comment on HB 149. The Obama administration, which signed NDAA into law in 2011, has said the detention provision is a necessary measure to assure the security of American citizens.
Some Texas Democrats see the fight over health care reform and the recently filed bills around security as ideologically driven and not dealing with important issues facing Texans.
"This goes along with the idea of Texas seceding and Texas having supreme rights over everything," state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said of the bills targeting federal laws. "We could just nullify anything we didn't like. That would mean anything the federal government passed could be nullified."
But limited-government advocates read the new bills as an assertion of constitutional rights. Advocates of the security bills who see 10th Amendment implications in their passage say it’s the only way for Texas to defend itself from federal overreach.
In theory, if Larson’s bill passes, the sections of the NDAA in question will be nullified in Texas based on a reading of the 10th Amendment that puts states’ rights above federal laws.
State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, who filed HB 80, the Texas Transportation Freedom Act, seeks to restrict personal searches by the TSA at airports.
“Travelers’ freedom and dignity are issues that we can unite behind,” said Simpson in a prepared statement. “I am hopeful that with the leadership of our state and legislators from both parties we can intervene on behalf of our citizens and stop these unconstitutional searches without probable cause.”
Simpson filed a similar bill last session, which passed the House but got hung up in the Senate amid TSA threats to shut down Texas airports if the bill passed.
The bills seeking to limit federal powers come after high-profile standoffs between Texas and the federal government. This year, Perry pledged the state would forgo $30 million in annual federal funding for the state’s Women’s Health Program and launch its own, state-run women’s health program in order to exclude Planned Parenthood under its “Affiliate Ban Rule.” Planned Parenthood has challenged the law’s implementation, and a full trial is scheduled.
Perry has also promised to oppose implementation of certain elements of President Obama’s federal health reform, including a provision that has states setting up an online marketplace for Texas consumers shopping for medical coverage.
Battles between Texas and the EPA may intensify as well. Texas won a round in its long fight with the agency this summer when an appeals court struck down the agency's cross-state pollution rule, which Abbott called "a federal bureaucracy run amok.”