The city of Houston on Monday sued the state of Texas over its so-called “death star” preemption law aimed at blocking city and county regulations on a sweeping range of issues, the latest escalation of an ongoing battle between Republican lawmakers and local leaders.

The lawsuit filed in Travis County by Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration sets Houston up for a legal confrontation with the Texas Legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott, who last month signed the bill into law despite vocal opposition from Houston-area officials.

Lawyers for Houston say the law violates the state Constitution, which grants broad powers to home-rule cities.

“The Texas Constitution expressly champions the local control and innovation that has been key to the tremendous economic dynamism in cities like Houston,” Turner said in a statement. “Houston will fight so its residents retain their constitutional rights and have immediate local recourse to government.”

The law is set to take effect Sept. 1. Houston is seeking a declaration that it is unconstitutional, void and unenforceable.

The new law, sponsored by Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, and Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, has drawn national attention for its broad scope. Sponsors say cities and counties will be prevented from issuing regulations on topics ranging from agriculture to labor. 

Burrows has said the law is needed so businesses do not have to navigate a confusing web of regulations in different cities across Texas. Business groups largely supported the bill, while organized labor came out in opposition.

Critics have zeroed in on the fact the law would block ordinances in Dallas and Austin that require water breaks for construction workers. Houston does not have such a measure.

Houston officials, however, said last week that ordinances regulating everything from tow truck companies to outdoor music festivals could be affected by the new law.

In its lawsuit, the city identified a new city measure it believes is under threat: the “pay-or-play” program that requires city contractors to provide their employees with health care or pay into a city fund for the uninsured. The city says the fund provides services for 30,000 Houstonians.

The lawsuit states that the health care program would “likely be halted as preempted” if the law goes into effect, and “tens of thousands of Houstonians would suffer as the result.”

It could be months or years, however, before the full effect of the law is known, city and county officials said last week, in part because of the vague language of the statute and because the law will rely on private lawsuits for enforcement.

The lawsuit alleges the preemption law represents an end-run around the state Constitution, which grants powers to cities like Houston that only can be taken away if the Legislature does so with “unmistakable clarity.” The “death star” law paints with far too broad of a brush, Houston’s lawyers say, and must be stricken down.

“In this case, what the Texas Legislature has done is that it has passed House Bill 2127 as a state law, but it has the direct impact of repealing portions of the Texas Constitution. That is a non-starter,” Turner said at a Monday press conference.

In filing suit against the law, Houston appears to be first out of the gate on an issue that has attracted condemnation from big cities across Texas. A city spokesperson said she was not aware of any other legal challenges thus far.

Two San Antonio City council members last week called for that city to file a lawsuit. Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee has said that he would support challenges to the law.

Abbott’s office and Burrows did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In filing suit against the legislation, Houston may be first out of the gate on an issue that’s attracted condemnation from other cities like Austin and San Antonio. A city spokesperson said she was not aware of any other legal challenges thus far.

Abbott’s press office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

This is a breaking story. Check back later for updates.

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Matt Sledge is the City Hall reporter for the Houston Landing. Before that, he worked in the same role for the Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate and as a national reporter for HuffPost. He’s excited...