Texas Legislature passes bill requiring largest cities to hold elections before cutting police funds

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two efforts to punish cities that cut police department budgets are poised to become law in Texas: moves made in direct response to the Austin City Council’s reform of the police budget last year.

Billboards on display rallying people against defunding police departments. (Photo courtesy of TMPA)

House Bill 1900 is a proposal that would freeze property taxes in cities with more than 250,000 residents that reduce police funding from the previous year — while redirecting sales tax revenue to the Texas Department of Public Safety. It cleared its final hurdle in the Texas Legislature on Monday.

Senate Bill 23 would require Texas counties with more than 1 million people — there are six that qualify, including Travis County — to hold an election before being able to cut police funding. The House granted final approval to the bill on Tuesday, but the Senate will have to approve changes that were made in the lower chamber.

Both proposals should soon head to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk to be signed into law.

“Unfortunately, local governments in some parts of our state and around the country are responding to certain calls to defund the police even though few Texans support defunding local law enforcement,” said Rep. Tom Oliverson, a Houston Republican, and the House sponsor of SB 23. “Senate Bill 23 puts the power back in the hands of Texans.”

The Republican-led effort to protect police departments from budget cuts is in response to the Austin City’s Council decision to reimagine the police budget by immediately cutting $20 million and moving $130 million in services out of police control.

According to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll conducted in April, a vast majority of Texans believe their local police department budget should stay the same or be increased, 72% to 28%. A majority also supported the idea of requiring local governments to hold an election before reducing or redirecting funds from their police budgets.

“We’re seeing that in public opinion, where some of the initial positive response to Black Lives Matter; some of the initial attitudes particularly among white voters towards regulating police behavior have receded,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas. “It was just not as long lived as some activists hoped it would be at the time.”

Progress on police reform has been more elusive this legislative session.

One year after the death of George Floyd, the former Houston resident murdered by a Minneapolis police officer, the most contentious piece of legislation from the George Floyd Act — ending liability protections for police officers — is unlikely to pass before the legislative session ends on May 31.

The Texas House and Senate have, however, passed legislation banning officers from using chokeholds. A bill requiring officers to intervene when they witness excessive force still needs approval in the House.

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