Texas Senate Passes Bill Aimed At Limiting Big Cities’ Options For Cut Police Budgets

The bill is in direct response to Austin’s police budget reductions in the wake of 2020’s summer protests.

By Kristen Cabrera & Laura RiceMay 25, 2021 2:52 pm, , , ,

The police murder of George Floyd one year ago sparked enormous protests across the country. Many protesters called for police reform – including reallocating police funds into community-centered programing. The City of Austin was among the first in the country to do so.

That caught the attention of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. He vowed to punish local governments that “defund the police” – making it a part of his legislative priorities.

Now the Texas Senate has joined the Texas House in passing a bill to do just that. KUT Austin reporter Audrey McGlinchy has been covering the issue.

What exactly this bill would do:

“So House Bill 1900 would, for the most part, financially punish cities – large cities – in Texas that cut funding to their police budget. And so what it does is it looks at the fiscal year or two prior and says, ‘well, if a city cut any money compared to the last two prior budgets for police, then they will be considered by the state a “defunding municipality.'” And once they’re considered that by the governor’s office, then several things happen. That city is prohibited from collecting any new property tax revenue. They’re prohibited from raising utility fees or rates. And they also are not allowed to annex any new land. Another part of that is that they’re actually required to hold an election for any neighborhoods that have been annexed in the past 30 years and allow the residents of those parts of the city to vote to potentially de-annex themselves from the city. It’s a pretty far-reaching bill and, in the case of Austin, would really sort of hamstring the city’s ability to fund a lot of things.”

Which cities the bill would apply to:

“Yeah, so it only applies to cities that have a population of 250,000 or more. And so lawmakers are saying, as of now, without the 2020 census numbers, they believe that applies to 11 cities in Texas. And I think with the new census numbers that will be coming out later this year, that this would actually apply to 13 cities in Texas going forward.”

Why the bill seems directly aimed at Austin:

“In the conversations yesterday at the Senate, there were several senators that kind of brought this up to one of the sponsors and was asking, ‘OK, well, other than Austin, do you know of any other city in Texas that has cut funding to their police?’ And the answer was basically no. And so it is pretty clear that this is a response to the decision that Austin made last year.”

Whether this might punish Austin for recent police budget reductions:

“All those sort of penalties would not just automatically apply to the city of Austin, but what this bill does is that it would hold the city of Austin to a budget that they passed two years ago… And so, you know, two years ago, the city of Austin was funding its police department at about $430 million. And, obviously, they cut $150 million from that. But they would be held to that higher number. And so they would have to get their budget back up to that number.”

What happens next:

“It goes back to the House since there were a couple of amendments. So the House basically, you know, the original authors have to basically say, ‘OK, we’re all right with the changes that the Senate made’ and give it a final OK. And then, if they do that, it gets sent to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk to be signed. And there’s a pretty clear indication that he will go ahead and do that. He made legislation that would penalize cities that cut funding for police a priority this legislative session. And he has time and time again tweeted and communicated that he would sign a bill like this.”

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