Excitement has followed the passing of House Bill 347, related to ending forced annexation statewide, by the Texas House of Representatives by a two-thirds vote this week.
“The house passed my bill to prohibit forced annexation statewide and it also put it where it would go into immediate effect if it got two-thirds vote in the house, which it did. So now it will go to the [Texas] Senate and be picked up by Sen. Brian Birdwell, and I expect it will pass the Senate within the next few weeks,” said Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, who authored the bill. “I suspect it will get two-thirds vote in the Senate, which would also give it immediate effect. So if all that occurs, then [Gov. Greg Abbott] has to sign it and my prediction is by June 1 it will be the law state wide.”
HB 347 takes a step further than 2017’s Senate Bill 6, which stopped forced annexation in Texas’ 10 largest counties.
The Stop Involuntary Annexation group in Parker County campaigned to get a proposition on the Nov. 6, 2018, ballot to give Parker County Tier 2 status, and ending forced annexation. Voters approved Tier 2 status with 81.13 percent (37,904 votes) for and 18.87 percent (8,816) votes against.
“We never expected for any of this to go this far. In our first steps we were thinking that we needed to protect ourselves, but as we were winning that annexation with the city of Weatherford we started looking at the broader picture — let’s protect the whole county and then maybe eventually the whole state — but I wasn’t thinking in the next two years,” President of Stop Involuntary Annexation Laura Hester said. “We just weren’t thinking that far ahead, so being really close to having the whole state protected, we’re just kind of speechless. We can’t even believe that it’s gone this far, so it’s exciting.”
King said Hester and others that worked hard to put a stop to forced annexation before it went to the legislature should be excited.
“It really is the way things are suppose to work. It really didn’t start at the legislature, it started in Zion Hill and Brock in Parker County and was a grassroots movement,” King said. “Now it has gone statewide and that’s how it’s suppose to work, so that is what’s really exciting to me.”
Texas has been one of the only states that allows forced annexation, which means a municipality can annex a property against an owner’s will. A city can still annex property, but would allow property owners to negotiate or decline the annexation.
“I don’t think we had any clue of what we were getting ourselves into when we started this locomotive train going down the track. It kept gaining speed and gaining speed and look now at the results,” Stop Involuntary Annexation member Dedra Vick said. “We are so proud of the accomplishments and it is great to know that it all started right here in Parker County. This is so exciting and I feel a huge sense of accomplishment.”
Hester said groups member will probably be going back down to Austin to testify again on the Senate side.
“Since it has passed the house, it will go on to the Senate committee hearing so people can testify for it or against it and then once it’s voted out of the committee I guess they could fail it at that point. But if they pass it and it goes to the Senate floor and passes, then it would go onto the governor and he could veto it,” Hester said. “But [Abbott] put the annexation issue in the special session in 2017 and that’s how we got SB 6, so I think if it makes it to his desk, there’s no way he’s going to veto it. He’s going to sign it.”
A couple of amendments were added to HB 347, which includes allowing the bill to go into immediate effect upon its passing.
“So it would be June 1 and we wouldn’t have to wait all the way until Sept. 1, which I was pretty excited about because when they did SB 6, it finished in September, but the law didn’t go into effect until December. So what cities did is they went ahead and hurried to annex some areas they wanted, to beat the law, and this amendment that was added would maybe keep some of that from happening,” Hester said. “We have a Tier 2 group message and a lot of the people in the group are excited, but there are a couple of counties down south that have been fighting from annexation and they haven’t quite gotten their [required] signatures. There was another amendment added that says any existing or ongoing annexations as of right now would be able to continue. So there were some of the people on our group message that were pretty upset. So not everybody is going to get protected, but I still think that it’s awesome. They can only do so much.”