The Texas Legislature has passed two bills aimed to punish cities that defund the police.
The measures are a direct response to the Austin City Council’s move to cut the city’s police budgets by $150 million last year following racial justice protests sparked by the death of George Floyd.
House Bill 1900 would freeze property taxes in cities with more than 250,000 people that reduce police funding from the previous year, and would redirect sales tax revenue to the Department of Public Safety.
Senate Bill 23, also known as the “Back the Blue Act,” would make it a law for Texas municipalities or counties with more than 1 million people to hold elections before cutting police funding or making any reallocations within the budget that reduce law enforcement’s share. The bill also requires elections to be held before local governments try to reduce the number of law enforcement positions. If a local government fails to hold an election, the municipality will not be allowed to raise property taxes for the next fiscal year according to a Washington Post report.
The proposals have passed both chambers of the legislature and now move to pro-law enforcement Gov. Greg Abbott to be signed into law.
The Gov. made it clear that he intends to sign both. After a recent shooting in Austin, Gov. Abbott tweeted, “This is what defunding the police looks like. Austin is incapable of timely responding to a victim shot in the head. Texas won’t tolerate this. We’re about to pass a law-that I will sign-that will prevent cities from defunding police. Sanity & safety will return.”
Due to budget cuts, police in Austin are severely hampered. Austin Police Association President Kenneth Casaday said it took 16 minutes for Austin police officers to arrive on the scene after receiving a call that a man was shot in the head.
Abbott is poised to restore law and order to the state.
“We always #BacktheBlue. Which is why I made legislation preventing cities from defunding the police an emergency item this session,” Abbott wrote on Twitter.
The House sponsor of SB 23 Rep. Tom Oliverson said the bill represents the majority opinion across the state.
“Unfortunately, local governments in some parts of our state and around the country are responding to certain calls to defund the police even though few Texans support defunding local law enforcement. Senate Bill 23 puts the power back in the hands of Texans,” he said.
A poll by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune found that an overwhelming 72% of Texans believed police budgets should be kept the same or increased. A majority also supported the idea of holding elections before reducing or redirecting funds from law enforcement.
Once the bill is signed into law, the city of Austin will be forced to raise their budget to meet the level of funding from two years ago, or risk being defunded themselves.