Leaders from the City of San Antonio are eyeing a handful of local control issues they’re concerned about in the state’s upcoming legislative session, which begins Jan. 10.

Members of the city’s government affairs team told a City Council committee Wednesday that a proposal seeking to limit local governments’ ability to regulate commerce, as well as one that would stop municipalities from being able to hire lobbyists, are at the top of their closely watched list.

Both proposals were shot down by lawmakers in previous sessions, they said, but likely to resurface in the 88th Legislative Session, which features an even bigger Republican majority.

“Right now these bills are at face value,” Sally Basurto, director of the city’s Government Affairs Department, told the council committee. “Once the bills start being heard, then we’re going to have to be really tracking [them] to monitor how they’re evolving.”

Texas Sen. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) has already filed a bill on the first proposal, which would stop cities from using city ordinances to regulate commercial enterprise. The bill is what’s considered a “super preemption” by the Texas Municipal League (TML) because it would use a single state law to usurp local authority on a broad subject matter, Assistant City Manager Jeff Coyle told the council committee.

“We regulate taxis, we regulate horse-drawn carriages. … We regulate development. … All of that is commercial activity,” Coyle said.

The idea hasn’t been successful in past sessions, “because people have been alarmed by the widespread implications of it,” he said. “But, of course, it’s concerning that it’s been filed again and something that we’re probably going to be paying a lot of attention to.”

The second proposal, ending taxpayer-funded lobbyists, has been reintroduced this session by state Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston), who previously championed it in the House. The current bill would prevent cities and counties from contracting with registered lobbyists, as well as from giving money to organizations that do lobbying work on their behalf, such as TML.

“You have all these different pro-government forces arguing on behalf of government, and in the process of doing so, they’re taking elected representatives time and attention away from the public,” said James Quintero, a policy director at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, which has promoted the effort in the past and will do so again.

The City of San Antonio has a long list of priorities it plans to fight for in the coming session, including military grants, funding for mental health services and protections for domestic violence victims, to name a few.

“We can’t begin to do that while we’re here in San Antonio focused on city things,” said Coyle.

The city currently employs a team of four full-time government affairs staffers who work on state, local and federal issues. It also has contracts with registered lobbyists whose political connections reach other across the state and the political spectrum.

For example, Jesse Ancira, the principal of Ancira Strategic Partners, previously served as chief-of-staff for former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a Republican, and is a former mayor of Tyler, Texas. In addition to Ancira, the city had contracts with Blackridge, Texas Lobby Partners and Focused Advocacy.

“It’s a part-time Legislature [whose members] are in [session] six months every other year,” said Coyle. “If we didn’t hire consultants on contract basis, we would be employing people year-round.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a past champion of efforts to end paid lobbying by municipalities, did not include the issue on his list of priorities for the upcoming session.

Also high on the city’s list of government affairs priorities is working with the state on the distribution of federal funding to expand high-speed internet into parts of the state that don’t currently have internet access.

This week, state Comptroller Glenn Hegar asked the federal government for more time to contest its initial plans for where the money should be spent. An initial map from the Federal Communications Commission indicated Texas would receive an investment of roughly $42 million, but more could be available if communities can prove they qualify.

In a state that’s better-known for rejecting federal money, the broadband discussion could offer a rare bright spot for collaboration with local governments.

“There’s a lot of money involved,” said Basurto. “If the state does not participate in the challenge or the various layers to the process with the feds, ultimately the state will lose out in receiving additional money.”

Basurto said she’s optimistic about working closely with the comptroller to present San Antonio’s case for additional investments.

“[Hegar’s] all for the [Federal Communication Commission] challenge,” she said. “He committed to working with local governments … to submit the appropriate information and data during the FCC public challenge period.”

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Andrea Drusch

Andrea Drusch writes about local government for the San Antonio Report. She's covered politics in Washington, D.C., and Texas for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, National Journal and Politico.