Texas Gov. signs bills punishing cities and counties for reducing police budgets

Southwest

AUSTIN, Tex. (NewsNation Now) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a series of bills into law Tuesday that penalize municipalities for lowering police budgets, as well as address tactics protestors around the country used to rattle police in protests over the past year.

“Efforts to defund the police are downright dangerous, and these laws will prevent cities from making this reckless decision,” Abbott said in a news release.

Two of the four bills he signed address defunding the police. The first would freeze property taxes for cities with more than 250,000 residents and suspend their annexation powers for a decade if they lower their police budget. Any area annexed in the last 30 years can also dis-annex.

The law says a city will not be labeled “defunding” if its overall budget is less than the year before and the overall drop is proportional to the drop in public safety spending. There are also exceptions for disasters and for concluding special projects that leave a city spending less in an upcoming year than it did the year before.

It passed the Texas legislature with bipartisan support, though most Democrats voted against it.

Additionally, counties with more than 1 million residents need voter approval to reduce their police budgets. If they don’t get it, their tax revenue will be frozen.

The other two laws strengthen penalties for blocking emergency vehicles or hospitals or using laser pointers or fireworks to obstruct police.

“With these laws, we are bolstering our support for law enforcement while ensuring a safer future for all Texans,” Abbott said in the news release.

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder last summer, “defund the police” became the rallying cry. More than 20 major U.S. cities have since reduced police budgets. Austin, Texas cut its police department by $150 million dollars.

“Keeping our community safe means safety for all,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in an August 2020 news conference. “That means it has to involve a conversation about justice and equity.”

Cities like Austin redistribute police funds to social services, education and alternative public safety programs.

In Washington, police reform is being debated in Congress with the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. It wouldn’t defund the police, but rather increase law enforcement accountability.

“It is a transformational and bold reform on policing practices,” Texas Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said. “It is a civil rights law of policing.”

But it’s behind schedule. President Biden said he wanted to sign the bill by the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s murder. The current bill has almost no chance of passing the 50-50 Senate.

Bipartisan negotiations continue, but Republicans say if a deal doesn’t come together by July it probably won’t happen until after the 2022 midterms.

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