Republicans pledge to “refinance the police” by seizing local control: state seizes power to dictate local public security budgets – News
Banners adorning Austin City Hall in August 2020 (Photo by John Anderson)
Govt. Greg Abbott enacted two bills – Senate Bill 23 and House bill 1900, the two main steps in this session to target localities that ‘fund the police’ – which not only undermine the ability of cities and counties (and their constituents) to manage their own budgets, but also directly allocate new ones. potentially extended powers to the governor’s office.
The Senate bill, drafted by Sen. Joan huffman, R-Southside Place, applies to counties with more than one million inhabitants, i.e. Harris, Dallas, Bexar, Travis, Tarrant, and Colin – and requires them to seek voter approval to reduce the budget of county law enforcement agencies (i.e. sheriff’s departments, police officers’ offices, etc.). The largest four of those counties are firmly under Democratic control, with the others turning at least purple, but SB 23 allows any resident who believes law enforcement has been funded without voter permission to file a complaint that , if continued, would trigger restrictions on this county property tax collection.
Senator Joan Huffman sentenced sine die in Texas’ 87th legislature (Photo by Jana Birchum)
HB 1900, introduced by Rep. Craig goldman, R-Benbrook, is imposing a series of sanctions on large cities (those with a population of over 250,000) whose rulers cut police spending from previous budgets – a comparison going back two years, so Austin has already adopted cuts in its police spending are not immune. “Failed municipalities” would be prohibited, until they restore these budgets, to increase property tax rates or the rates of their utilities (like Austin Energy) and would see a portion of their tax revenue. of sales diverted to Texas Department of Public Safety, ostensibly to pay for it to take over from the police. They would also lose annexation power and would indeed be required to allow areas acquired over the previous 30 years to vote to deregister.
Rep. Craig Goldman on sine die in the 87th Texas Legislature (Photo by John Anderson)
Both bills grant new powers to the Governor’s Office of the Criminal Justice Division, which until now has mainly administered grant programs. It is to the CJD that the citizens aggrieved, under SB 23, would file a complaint; the office then transmitted those it considered valid to the controller to calculate the tax restrictions. HB 1900 gives the CJD even greater authority; it is entirely up to its director, appointed by Abbott, to determine whether a city is in the process of “defining”, which is not really defined in the legislation.
“It’s tyranny, overtaking the government. ” – Representative Jarvis Johnson, D-Houston
It is unclear, for example, how Austin’s reclassification of its forensics division, 911 call center, and police administrative functions such as human resources and public information would be handled, none of which are decreased their funding. These decouplings could probably be recoupled with the Austin Police Department if necessary, although in cases such as forensics, the leaders of the DPA and the police union support the changes made. The actual reduction of $ 21 million in this year’s ODA budget has already been partially restored, as the department progresses with delayed police academy cadet classes. (The Council added an item to the agenda for this week’s executive session to discuss HB 1900.)
The state’s takeover was evident to some Democrats, who attempted to change some of the more egregious parts of the bill (like the population thresholds). “It is tyranny, overbroad government,” said the representative. Jarvis johnson, D-Houston, told colleagues in the House during the floor debate on the Senate measure. “We decided to take a few buzzwords and slogans to [fuel] partisanship and divide this state and this country. Many questions surrounding the bills – including their constitutionality – will, opponents hope, be resolved by the courts. Until that happens, local leaders have little incentive to increase their law enforcement budgets, as this could tie a chain to the budget in perpetuity.