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Bracket Bill: How the 2020 Census May Change Which Texas Laws Apply to a City

The year is 2020. Jokes about Barbara Walters are timely; jokes about hindsight are not. Also, this new year comes with a few other new things in tow: a new decade, new Olympics, a new presidential election, and a new census. It’s that last one I mostly want to talk about today.

Another attorney at our office has previously written about how the census works, so I’ll be taking a closer look at what effect the census has on local government.

The reason that the census has such an impact on local governments — cities and counties — is a legislative concept known as a “bracket bill.” The Texas Legislative Glossary prepared by the Research Division of the Texas Legislative Council defines the term bracket bill to mean “a legislative measure intended to apply only to a particular class of political subdivisions or geographic areas described by characteristics that relate to the purpose of the law.” One common way that the Legislature targets the application of a law to a particular class of political subdivisions or geographic areas is to apply it based on population.

While the actual population of an area may change on a daily basis, the term “population” as used in Texas statutes means “the population shown by the most recent federal decennial census.” Therefore, the 2020 Census may affect many Texas cities and counties by either moving them into or out of the population bracket that certain laws apply to, and they’ll stay in those brackets until the 2030 Census. Here are a few of the laws tied to population:

  • Only a city with a population of less than 5,000 can adopt a city manager form of government without needing to adopt a home-rule charter.
  • A city that has a population of 7,500 or less and has created both a Type A and a Type B economic development corporation may authorize its Type A corporation to undertake the same projects that may be undertaken by its Type B corporation.
  • A city with a population of less than 10,000 can require its employees to live within the city limits.
  • When a city has a population of 10,000 or more, each member of the city’s fire or police department is entitled to longevity pay.
  • If a city has a population of 20,000 or less, it may convey real property to the city’s economic development corporation without the necessity of notice and bidding.
  • Officers and candidates for elective office in a city with a population of 100,000 or more must file a financial statement.

There are plenty of other laws which are applicable or inapplicable to local governments on the basis of their populations, ranging from population brackets of as little as 1,000 to over 1.8 million.

The Texas Constitution generally prohibits local or special laws, meaning that the Legislature cannot make a law applicable only to a named city or county, for example. However, the Legislature sometimes uses brackets to narrow the applicability of certain laws to, in effect, only include a particular city or county. For example, sometimes bracket bills compound population limits with other criteria, such as whether the jurisdiction is adjacent to an international border, to describe only the intended target of the legislation. Whether this adheres to both the spirit and the letter of the Texas Constitution is a matter of debate, but the Texas codes are nevertheless replete with such bracket bills.

If you live in a city or county whose population in the 2010 Census was close to a bracketed figure, your city or county may pass that threshold in the 2020 Census and certain laws that were inapplicable to your area before may be applicable now, or vice versa.

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our municipal law practice can be found here.

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