House panel weighs bill requiring annexation vote,
House sponsor says measure protects property rights.
A Texas House panel on Wednesday heard testimony from more than 50 people on a bill that would require cities in large Texas counties to get residents’ approval before annexing their property.
House Bill 6, a version of which passed in the Senate last week, is largely identical to a version that nearly passed in the regular session but was blocked by a filibuster.
Giving residents a say in annexation is one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s top 20 special session priorities. No vote was taken Wednesday.
“Forced annexation gives complete authority to the city, and no authority to the residents they’re annexing,” said bill sponsor Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston. “This bill ... ensures property rights are protected by allowing those residents the right to vote.”
The bill would require cities in counties with populations above 500,000 to hold an election and get residents’ approval to annex areas with more than 200 people. A city would have to circulate a petition for annexation in areas with fewer than 200 residents and get signatures from more than half of the property owners.
Huberty also addressed one of the most contentious arguments against the bill: that annexation is necessary to protect military bases from encroachment by development, as many urban Texas city officials have testified. That issue kept Sen. José Menéndez filibustering the regular session bill until its death.
Huberty said there are many other tools cities can use, such as conservation easements, and said he resented the fact that the bases were being used as political “pawns.”
Austin is in the process of annexing the western Travis County neighborhood of River Place. The area is set to be fully annexed in December, but some residents who oppose the move are hoping the passage of HB 6 could be their saving grace.
“All negotiations with our MUD (municipal utility district) board were not about if we were going to be annexed but rather how and when,” River Place Homeowners Association President Steve Crosby said, referring to the district’s “strategic partnership agreement” with the city that lays out the terms of annexation.
Most of those who testified against the bill were officials representing cities and counties with ongoing annexation plans.
Among them was Virginia Collier, the Austin city planner in charge of annexation efforts, who argued that the city should be included in an exemption that allows most strategic partnership agreements to stand without a need to follow the bill’s election requirements.
“The city has expended funds and resources in anticipation of annexation,” Collier said, adding in an interview that the city has spent about $2 million on water system improvements for River Place. “Should annexation not occur as scheduled, it is unclear whether the city can recoup these investments.”
House Land and Resource Management Committee Chair Abel Herrero (left), D-Corpus Christi, and Rep. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, listen to public remarks about House Bill 6 on Wednesday. HB 6 would require large cities to hold elections on annexations to see if residents want to be annexed.