House Bill (HB) 1900 would allow the state to reprimand cities that are deemed to have “defunded” their police departments. The bill comes after, over the interim, the City of Austin cut and redirected $150 million from its police department budget.
Included in the budget cut were three cadet classes at a time when the Austin Police Department already had over 100 vacancies. Since then, that total has risen to 116.
Only applying to cities with 250,000 or more in population, the legislation would freeze a municipality’s property taxes the fiscal year following the budget cut. Other punishments include triggering an automatic de-annexation election for parts of the municipality in question that were annexed in the last 30 years; prohibit new annexation for 10 years; and trigger funding for state law enforcement to fill the gap.
An amendment striking the population floor presented by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) was rejected by the House. Another, by Rep. Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston), would have excluded cuts to civilian positions within police departments from counting toward the “defunding” judgment.
In laying out the bill, Rep. Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth) said, “This is about public safety. This is about being pro-police. This makes sure that in the State of Texas, cities will not ‘defund the police.’”
Rep. Carl Sherman (D-DeSoto) decried the bill as “legislative overreach” and exclaimed, “I miss the 80s when Republicans believed in ‘local control.’”
The legislation is one of Governor Greg Abbott’s priorities this session and was part of a marathon State Affairs Committee hearing back in March. Abbott has criticized, early and often, Austin city leadership for its move last summer.
When announcing this as a priority back in January, Abbott said, “Defunding the police is reckless and endangers the lives of people in communities across the entire state.”
“Cities that defund the police make it physically impossible for citizens to live safely. Now we must make it fiscally impossible for cities to defund police.”
Since the pandemic began, cities across the country have experienced substantial violent crime increases, including multiple Texas cities. After a triple homicide last month, Austin’s 2021 murder rate is 53 percent above the same period in 2020.
The House voted in favor of the bill 91 to 55 and must pass that chamber once more before moving across the rotunda to the Senate.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and 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.