Texas Gov. George Bush signed an opt-out bill into law on Tuesday, making the state the first to bow out of the Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Act of 1994.

Mr. Bush signed the bill in a batch of 12 bills, without comment.

As a result, banks in Texas will be barred from branching across state lines - except in cases where federal regulators approve 30-mile national bank relocations - until 1999, when the issue will be taken up in the state Legislature again.

The law is a huge political victory for independent banks that supported it, but analysts and bankers in Texas question whether it will have any impact on the competitive dynamic in the state.

"It was strictly a political thing between the two bank associations," said William Strunk, a Houston bank consultant, referring to the opposing positions of the Independent Bankers Association of Texas and the Texas Bankers Association. "It was simply a matter of the independent banks flexing their political muscle."

Mr. Strunk said the main forces at work in Texas - the consolidation of the state's hundreds of community banks and the acquisitiveness of the superregionals that have massive operations in Texas - will continue with or without branching.

"If you think about it, it really doesn't mean anything," said one prominent Dallas banker, who wished not to be named. "It was a negative fight. We were fighting to keep somebody else from doing something. Branching was a thing the big banks wanted, and anything they want is a bad thing, at least around here."

Steve Didion, a bank analyst who follows Texas community banks for Hoefer & Arnett in San Francisco, said the only impact of the opt-out law he sees is that it could slow down new entrants into the Texas banking market.

"But you've already got NationsBank, Chemical, Boatmen's, and every big bank on down the line already there," he said. "I can see why (independent banks) did it. It's in their self-interest not to have the big banks be more efficient than they are."

But Christopher Williston, who as chief executive of the Independent Bankers Association of Texas was the main architect of the opt-out drive, said the goal of the law was not simply to deprive big banks of the right to branch.

"Certainly, there was a lot of emotion and a lot of history at work here," he said, referring to Texas' loss of every major bank in the energy and real estate collapse of the late 1980s. "The economic aspects of a large share of the banking market being owned by out-of-state institutions is more pronounced here than anywhere else in the country."

The association executive pointed out that a broad base of bank consumers, including agricultural and small-business groups, actively pushed for the opt-out law.

"There's a hell of a lot of animosity here from bank customers over what's happened to the banking industry," he said. "With this law, they will be well served in that they will still have a local player that is responsive to their needs."

Mr. Williston could not deny, however, the enormous political prestige the victory bestows on independent banks, especially coming on the heels of Colorado Gov. Roy Romer's veto of a similar opt-out bill.

"To be honest, I hope it starts a tidal wave nationwide of states opting out," he said. "A lot of people out there thought this branching was a done deal. My phones have been ringing an awful lot lately from other state associations. They want us to tell them how we did it."

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