AUSTIN (KXAN) — Over the past year, Gov. Greg Abbott has promised to punish cities and counties in Texas that “defund police,” though details of his plan remained unclear — until now.
Abbott’s office worked with Rep. Craig Goldman, a Fort Worth Republican, on legislation that would financially punish local governments that reduce a law enforcement agency’s budget, funding for overtime, funding for training and recruitment, or the number of officers it employs.
House Bill 1900 would “ensure that no other cities follow Austin, Minneapolis, and Seattle down the path of defunding the police, which serves no purpose other than making their citizens less safe,” a spokesperson for the governor told KXAN.
If passed by the Texas Legislature and signed into law by Abbott, the law would take effect Sept. 1.
Abbott’s spokesperson said his office is working with several lawmakers on bills to stop local governments from reducing police funding. Five other bills filed in the Texas House target defunding police.
Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said Abbott has the political power to push forward pro-law enforcement legislation.
“This shows the governor means business,” Rottinghaus said. “This definitely harnesses the frustration that a lot of people feel about this issue and the governor is in a pretty good position to take advantage of it politically.”
Under this bill, the Governor’s Office would issue a written determination that a municipality defunded its law enforcement agency. That municipality would then be required to hold separate elections in communities that were annexed in the previous 30 years with the option to leave the municipality.
If a majority of residents vote to leave the municipality, a municipality would not be able to re-annex the community until 10 years after the date that the Governor’s Office determined a “defunding” action was reversed.
The municipality would not be allowed to use public funds on any information campaigns related to the disannexation elections.
Withholding tax revenue
The bill directs the Governor’s Office to calculate the amount of money the state spent to provide law enforcement services in a municipality that defunded police. The Texas Comptroller’s Office would then deduct that amount from the municipality’s share of tax revenue. That money would be credited to the state’s general revenue fund and would only be appropriated to the Dept. of Public Safety.
Public utility rate freeze
If a municipality is determined to have defunded law enforcement by the Governor’s Office, a utility owned by the municipality would not be allowed to raise customer rates or fees.
Abbott routinely condemns the Austin City Council’s decision to move $150 million from the city’s police department budget nearly a year ago, though only $20 million was cut — the remaining $130 million of services will still exist but are being transitioned away from police control.
While this legislation wouldn’t penalize the City for that decision, City Council Member Greg Casar said it would limit a local government’s ability to address the needs of its community.
“Do you want to punish cities that are trying to protect family violence survivors with a shelter? Do you want to punish cities that are trying to make independent science labs so that DNA evidence can be tested by departments led by sciences?” Casar said.
KXAN politics reporter John Engel will have a full report tonight at 6 p.m.