Texas lawmakers may not be done with Denton.
Four days after the Senate sent House Bill 40 – landmark legislation that would pre-empt local control over a variety of oil and gas activities – to the governor’s desk, the Texas House advanced another response to the North Texas town’s vote to ban hydraulic fracturing.
Rep. Jim Keffer's House Bill 2595 would bar local governments from putting measures on their ballots that would “restrict the right of any person to use or access the person ’s private property" for economic gain.
With no debate, the House passed the bill on a voice vote. It has no companion in the Senate, so it will need a sponsor and committee assignment to advance further.
Voter referendum was the weapon of choice for opponents of fracking in Denton, which in November passed Texas’ first ban on the controversial method of oil and gas extraction.
The ban's proponents called it a last-ditch effort to address noise and toxic fumes that spew from wells just beyond their backyards, after loopholes and previous zoning decisions rendered changes to the city’s drilling ordinance unenforceable.
Opponents – including most Texas lawmakers – say the policy effectively halted all drilling inside Denton, keeping mineral owners from using their property.
Keffer’s blanket prohibition would, of course, apply to mineral rights, but would also prohibit referendum votes on a variety of other issues, including the placement of landfills or reservoirs.
Asked Thursday whether the bill was still needed in light of House Bill 40’s passage, Keffer, R-Eastland, said his bill was just “one piece of the puzzle” in responding to Denton’s vote.
“People need to understand what’s ballotable and what’s not,” he told the Tribune. “There are property rights that have to be protected, and that’s what Texas is all about.”
Environmentalists aren’t happy with the bill, calling it another assault on the environment and local control in a legislative session that’s been rough on both fronts.
"It seems the 84th Legislature can't go far enough in gutting local control,” said David Weinberg, executive director of the Texas League of Conservation Voters.
The bill has flown under the radar so far, but Weinberg said environmental advocates would put on a full-court press if it gets a Senate hearing.
But the Texas Municipal League, which counts 1,145 Texas cities among its members, took no position on the bill, because its members had mixed opinions.
“Not quite as controversial, because initiatives and referendums are usually employed to do something the council didn’t do in the first place,” said Bennett Sandlin, the league’s executive director. “There’s no issue that’s ripe for initiative and referendum that the council can’t do on its own.”
Ryan McCrimmon contributed to this report.
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