Water fountain
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Texans Die from Heat After Governor Bans Mandatory Water Breaks

House Bill 2127 preempts local governments from enacting legislation in eight areas—with potentially deadly results.


As a part of a bill critics have dubbed the “Death Star” bill—an expansive law that preempts legislation in eight key areas of local government—the Legislature has overridden local ordinances that require giving workers water breaks. Otherwise known as House Bill 2127, it was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott on June 6.

Since then, 11 people between the ages of 60 and 80 have died of heat-related illness in Webb County, the Associated Press reported. Most did not have air-conditioning in their homes. A teen and stepfather died while hiking in extreme heat at Big Bend National Park, per a National Park Service release. According to the Texas Tribune, at least nine inmates, including two men in their 30s, died in Texas prisons that lack air-conditioning. And at least three workers have died after collapsing on the job while laboring in triple-digit heat: a post office worker in Dallas, a utility lineman in East Texas, and a construction worker in Houston.

While the precise nature of worker deaths is being investigated, hyperthermia is the likely cause. Climate scientists have projected that Texas summers will get increasingly hot if climate change continues, exacerbating the public health risk. For every heat-related workplace death, dozens more workers fall ill. Since 2011, the state has seen at least 42 heat-related deaths on the job, and at least 4,030 incidents of heat-related illness, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Local ordinances mandating water breaks for workers outdoors, passed in Austin in 2010 and in Dallas in 2015, have contributed to a significant decrease in annual heat-related illnesses and heat deaths. Since 2011, annual workplace heat-related illness numbers have dropped by 78 percent, while workplace heat-related deaths have cut in half. San Antonio considered a similar ordinance before the Death Star zapped its chances.

In addition to overturning existing local ordinances, House Bill 2127 bans cities and counties from passing new ones at the risk of legal action. These include any bills concerning agriculture, finance, insurance, labor, natural resources, property, business and commerce, and occupations. A spokesperson for Abbott said in a statement that “ensuring the safety of Texans is a top priority as our state experiences high summer heat,” noting that invalidating local ordinances won’t prevent workers from taking breaks under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) standards. 

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But come September 1, those water breaks in Dallas and Austin will no longer be mandatory. Some workers fear that bosses seeking to increase production will eliminate existing breaks.

The City of Houston has already filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Death Star bill, alleging it is unconstitutional under the Home Rule provision of the Texas State Constitution. Although Houston does not have a mandatory water break ordinance, Mayor Sylvester Turner pointed to a city program that provides 30,000 uninsured people with healthcare that will be in danger if the courts do not intervene. 

“HB 2127 reverses over 100 years of Texas constitutional law without amending the Constitution,” Turner said in a public statement. “Because Texas has long had the means to preempt local laws that conflict with State law, HB 2127 is unnecessary, dismantling the ability to govern at the level closest to the people and therefore punishing all Texas residents. Houston will fight so its residents retain their constitutional rights and have immediate local recourse to government.”

Correction: A mention of one construction worker’s death in San Antonio, which occurred in 2022, has been removed.