In the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, some cities, including Austin, took steps to reduce funding for their police departments or reallocate funding to mental health services. Now, Texas lawmakers want to make it difficult for communities to take actions that activists initially called “defunding” the police. Bills sponsored by GOP members of the Texas Legislature would penalize cities that take such action.
Phil Jankowski is a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman. He told Texas Standard that Austin’s move to curb police funding came after local protests of Floyd’s killing that included police violence against protesters. City council members initially supported the police defunding movement, but have since walked back from that stance.
“I think when they realized how much Republicans were pouncing on that, they sort of backed away from that, sort of calling it reallocations,” Jankowski said.
House Bill 1900, authored by Fort Worth Republican Craig Goldman, would give the governor’s office the ability to limit a community’s ability to raise property taxes if the governor determined that police had been “defunded.”
“It would kind of pave the way for a Department of Public Safety takeover of the police department if the governor’s office wants to do that,” Jankowski said.
Austin’s interim Police Chief Joe Chacon, testified against the bill. Jankowski says lawmakers were surprised that a police officer would take that position. Officers representing police labor unions supported the bill.
Chacon told lawmakers that Austin didn’t defund the police department, but reallocated money to other kinds of services. He said the changes Austin made to its police budget might allow officers to focus on mental health concerns they encounter among residents.
In addition to Republicans who are expected to back the bill, Jankowski says a few Democrats also seemed supportive.
“If they’re able to get even a handful of Democrats, it’ll fly through,” he said.