87th LegislatureCriminal JusticeTexas Finalizes Anti-Defunding Rules for Large City Police Departments

The new rules aiming to prevent local police department defunding will be posted to the Texas Register later this month.
March 7, 2022
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The City of Austin ignited multiple policy responses from the state government over the last few years, and one of the most significant is Texas’ prohibition on police department defunding. On Monday, the state announced it finalized rules that forbid Texas’ largest cities from making cuts to their police budgets.

“Texas remains a law-and-order state and we continue to make it abundantly clear that we support our law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day to keep communities safe,” said Governor Abbott in a release.

“My office’s adoption of these new rules will prevent cities from making reckless and downright dangerous decisions to defund the police, ensuring a safer future for Texans all across the Lone Star State.”

The rules stem from a directive by the state legislature in the form of House Bill (HB) 1900. The law tasks the executive branch with identifying cities that have “defunded” their police budgets, classified as reducing the department budget from one year to another unless the reduction is proportionally equivalent to the entire municipality’s budget cut. The locality may also be granted an exception, including if under a disaster declaration.

If found to be in violation, the city risks having their property tax rate frozen at the no-new-revenue rate, losing out on grant money, being banned from annexing surrounding communities, and triggering a disannexation election for any community absorbed in the preceding 30 years.

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The bill places various other restrictions on the offending municipality’s spending discretion, such as barring the increase of customer rates for municipal-owned utilities.

During the House’s consideration of HB 1900, the criteria for an offending municipality was limited to only cities above 250,000 in population, per the latest census. The cities meeting that criterion include:

  • Houston
  • San Antonio
  • Dallas
  • Austin
  • Fort Worth
  • El Paso
  • Arlington
  • Corpus Christi
  • Plano
  • Laredo
  • Lubbock

Being tied to the latest census numbers means despite population growth throughout the next decade, only these cities will be eligible for review until the 2030 census.

The measure is a direct response to the City of Austin which approved a $150 million budget cut and redirection from its police department budget in 2020. After the law passed, the city approved a $4.5 billion 2021-2022 budget that nominally restored most of the police budget removed, but did not restore the 150 authorized patrol positions nixed the year before.

The city did this so it did not run afoul the new state law.

Tasked with enforcing this law is the Public Safety Office (PSO) within the governor’s office. The rules, to be published in the state register later this month, say the PSO oversees issuing written determinations of defunding which must be sent to the mayor, city manager, and all city councilmembers of an offending city.

If the locality reverses its funding decision, the PSO may terminate the determination.

The PSO will conduct annual budget reviews of the municipal budgets at the beginning of each fiscal year — after the budgets have been approved, finalized, and become effective.

HB 1900 was opposed by Austin brass during the 87th legislative session, most notably by then-Councilman Greg Casar and then-interim, but now-permanent Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon.

Abbott and the GOP legislature staunchly opposed Austin’s decision to reduce its police budget, and now have a law and regulations in place to back it up.

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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.