In a move aimed at enhancing public safety, Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently signed a series of bills into law, stirring both support and controversy.
Among the legislation signed was House Bill 17, which seeks to crack down on “rogue district attorneys” by holding them accountable for not prosecuting certain crimes.
One such instance involves Travis County DA Jose Garza, whose office pledged to not prosecute minor drug offenses or cases related to the state’s abortion ban.
HB 17 considers a district attorney’s refusal to prosecute certain crimes as “official misconduct,” potentially leading to their removal from office by an external judge.
Proponents argue that this measure ensures justice for victims, while critics express concerns about potential repercussions on criminal justice reform efforts.
While some district attorneys have declined to comment on HB 17, opponents worry that this legislation may discourage reform-minded DAs from assuming office and contribute to increased incarcerations.
Austin Justice Coalition Policy Director Chris Harris expressed concern over the potential consequences of the bill.
“This is a step toward catching our governor up with the governor of Florida,” Harris said. “Ensuring that the people that they go after, the people that they try to marginalize, whether it’s trans folks, people seeking abortion, undocumented folks or Black people in our community, that all the elected officials within their state have to do the same thing.”
In addition to HB 17, Abbott signed two laws targeting “street takeovers” like those witnessed in Austin earlier this year. These laws empower law enforcement to seize vehicles involved in racing and classify street racing as a form of organized crime.
Furthermore, Abbott endorsed stricter penalties for theft or illegal possession of catalytic converters, longer prison sentences for violent criminals causing paralysis to victims and the classification of parolees cutting off their ankle monitors as a felony.
To further support law enforcement, Abbott also approved $330 million in funding for sheriff’s offices in rural counties such as Llano, Hays, Bastrop and Burnet. The funds will facilitate salary increases for sheriffs and their staff, as well as the recruitment of additional personnel.
The recent bill signings also addressed other contentious issues.
Senate Bill 17 restricts diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs on campuses, prohibiting the establishment of DEI offices and barring universities from making hiring decisions based on race, sex, color or ethnicity.
Additionally, Senate Bill 18, initially aimed at banning tenure at universities, underwent revisions and now requires institutions to outline specific procedures for granting tenure and the evaluation process for tenured faculty.
Notably, SB 17 faced opposition from students who rallied against the legislation, advocating for the protection of DEI initiatives on campuses. Despite concerns, university leadership has committed to reviewing existing practices and complying with new laws.
Reacting to the bills in a press release, the office of Senator Brandon Creighton called SB 17 the “most significant ban on diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education in the nation.”
Creighton emphasized the positive impact of these laws. “Now that these bills are law, institutes of higher education are better equipped to prepare the next generation of leaders, and keep Texas the economic engine of the nation,” he said.