Lone Star LifeStatewide NewsGovernor, Attorney General Threaten Recourse for Localities Failing to Enforce Statewide Public Camping Ban

State officials have regularly clashed with the City of Austin over its policies, including the continuous flirtation with lax homeless camping enforcement.
September 10, 2021
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Local governments could face “costly litigation and a loss of state grant funds” if they fail to enforce the statewide public camping ban, Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton warned Thursday.

In a letter sent to the Texas Municipal League, Texas Association of Counties, and the state’s eight largest cities, the state Republicans said the localities “should uphold the rule of law by enforcing this public camping ban.”

The state legislature passed House Bill 1925 during the regular session as a direct response to the City of Austin’s two-year experiment in nearly nonexistent public camping prohibitions. Since then, the state capital has been a hotbed for homeless shanty-towns cropped up hastily under overpasses and sprinkled across boulevards.

Austin voters overwhelmingly reinstated the public camping ban back in May by a ratio of 3 to 2, but the city has since dragged its feet on re-enforcement. Officials decided to implement a phased re-enforcement across 120 days, but encampments still remain across the city.

A handful of Austin business owners, along with activist group Save Austin Now, filed suit last month against the city for abrogating enforcement of the reinstated ban.

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“House Bill 1925 bans the kind of homeless encampments that threatened to ruin the City of Austin, making it a Class C misdemeanor to reside with shelter in most public places,” the joint letter reads.

“In the coming months, we will be monitoring local entities across Texas to ensure compliance with House Bill 1925. We trust that you will begin enforcing the public camping ban in good faith. Doing so will achieve our shared goal of delivering improved services for the homeless and safer communities for everyone.”

Asked if he had a response to the letter, Mayor Steve Adler’s office brushed aside the opportunity to comment and a spokesperson said, “Austin government doesn’t work that way. We have a ‘weak’ mayor system. The City Manager would be the office you seek as they are in charge of implementing and seeing that enforcement of our local camping ban is happening.”

It is not the first time the mayor or his office has pointed the finger at City Manager Spencer Cronk on the city’s homelessness problem. Back in May, Adler appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast and said, “[W]e asked the city manager to come back with a set of rules [on acceptable and prohibited camping areas] and for lots of reasons, that never happened.”

The city, separate from Adler’s office, told The Texan of the state’s letter, “The City of Austin is in compliance with state law.”

“APD’s enforcement authority under the state law includes verbal warnings, writing warnings, and citations, and may include arrest.”

The city did not return The Texan’s inquiry requesting figures for the number of arrests and citations issued during the phased re-enforcement.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.