The Texas House is considering a bill that would severely limit the ability of local governments to impose historic designations on private property. Under current law, local authorities have broad discretion in designation historic landmarks and subjecting such properties to government control.
As might be expected, preservationists are up in arms. Steve Sadowsky, the historic preservation officer for Austin, said, “It takes away the ability of a local community to recognize and preserve what’s important to it.” Sadowsky is correct, and that is why this is a good bill.
The purpose of historic preservation is to grant government officials the power to control the use of private property. According to preservationists, property owners should not be free to use their property as they deem best. Instead, they should be required to obtain the approval of the community before using that property. And if the community disapproves, the property owner has little option but to abide by the wishes and desires of his neighbors.
This is not the first time that this legislative session has taken a stand against local governments to protect the rights of Texans. The Chronicle writes that this is part of a
trend of proposals by Republicans in both the House and Senate that began in the last legislative session to consolidate power at the state level by limiting cities and other local governments from exercising authority over an array of issue ranging from property taxes and gender-neutral bathrooms to the regulation of ride-hailing apps and bans on plastic bags.
Of course, the paper considers this to be a nefarious trend, because it believes that local governments should be free to do whatever they desire.
However, just as it is proper for the federal government to override laws passed on the state level, it is proper for the state government to override laws passed at the local level. The only proper purpose of government is the protection of individual rights. If a local government passes a law that infringes on those rights, the state government has a moral responsibility to take action.
Unfortunately, the state is not being consistent. If it were, it would be addressing dozens of other laws violate individual rights, including zoning and other land-use regulations. Attacking historic preservation is a start, but it’s only a start.