Municipal annexation power dates back to the 1912 Home Rule Amendment to the Texas Constitution. By adopting a home rule charter, cities with a population of 5,000 or more are given the inherent powers of self-government. Therefore, home rule cities are defined by what they cannot do; such municipalities have the authority to exercise any power that is given them by the people and not prohibited by the Constitution or laws of the state.
Since no limit on annexation was expressly stated in the 1912 amendment, cities initially wielded virtually unlimited authority to annex property—including the right to forcibly annex without obtaining consent. However, the Legislature periodically enacted reforms after watching cities abuse their annexation power. In the 1960s, a land battle between Houston and Pasadena prompted the Legislature to pass the Municipal Annexation Act of 1963. The act limits cities’ expansion to a confined buffer zone around the municipality known as the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ).
Similarly, in 1989, the Legislature created a requirement that cities prepare a municipal annexation plan to extend services to newly annexed areas within four and a half years after annexation. Following Houston’s controversial annexation of Kingwood, the Texas Legislature strengthened the requirements for municipal annexation plans, public hearing timelines, and notice requirements.
Then in late 2017, the Legislature passed the Texas Annexation Right to Vote Act (TARVA), which became effective on December 1, 2017. Under the new law, a city that wants to annex an area at least partially located in a county with a population of 500,000—known as a “tier 2 county”—must obtain consent from that area via a petition or an election. However, cities in smaller counties—defined as a “tier 1 county” with a population of less than 500,000—can still forcibly annex without obtaining consent.
Tier 1 counties that want to voluntarily come under the new law’s protections against forced annexation must undergo a two-step process. First, at least 10 percent of registered voters in the county must sign a petition asking the county commissioners’ court to hold an election to classify the county as a “tier 2 county,” in which forced annexation is prohibited. Next, a majority of voters must approve the proposition to classify the area as a tier 2 county.
These kinds of countywide campaigns offer Texans a good, practical way to come under the umbrella of protection afforded by TARVA. Even still, opt-in elections are more of a short-term solution than a long-term fix. A person’s right to choose their government should not
hinge on where they live or on election results. Instead, this cherished right should be a given.
That’s why the incoming Texas Legislature should make it a priority next session to expand TARVA to apply to all home-rule cities. Doing so would bring a permanent end to the practice of forced annexation and protect the property right of every landowner regardless of where they reside.
Eliminate the distinction between large and small counties in the Texas Annexation Right to Vote Act, and prohibit forced annexation everywhere in Texas.