Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's public safety priorities for the current legislative session include making it "fiscally impossible" for municipalities to defund their police departments and a statewide plan to address homelessness that will include a ban on public camping. Both are clear rebukes to recent policy changes enacted by local elected officials.
"We cannot and will not allow Austin to defund the police," Abbott said during a press conference on Thursday. "Texas must set the example for the United States of America, not only to support law enforcement but to fully fund law enforcement agencies."
Austin City Council voted last August to cut the Austin Police Department budget by around 5% in the wake of mass protests against police brutality and racial injustice. Council members also approved putting around 30% of the budget into transition funds while they decide which traditional police duties could be moved out of the department's control.
Abbott did not elaborate on what such legislation might look like during a press conference on Thursday. But a few bills have already been proposed that might provide insight.
State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, filed a bill that would prohibit municipalities from passing annual budgets that reduce funding for public safety agencies. And State. Rep. Steve Allison, R-San Antonio, filed a bill that would require a referendum in cases where municipalities passed budgets with more than a 5% cut to public safety spending.
The Texas Legislative Council, a nonpartisan agency that helps lawmakers draft legislative, has also drawn up a proposal that, if filed and approved by state lawmakers, would put APD under state control—while remaining fully funded by the city of Austin. Abbott signaled his support for the draft on Twitter, writing that it had arrived "just in time for Christmas."
The main impact of the APD budget cuts was the cancellation of three planned cadet classes. APD's training academy has come under fire in recent years following allegations of racism, hazing and a paramilitary culture. Multiple reports commissioned by the City Council have recommended that it be put on hold until these issues can be resolved.
The most recent one—a community review of APD's training videos that was published on Monday—found "dangerous racial and class sterotypes;" limited representation of women, trans and non-binary people; a warrior mentality that pitts police officers against the community members they serve; and "constant refinforcement … that every encounter is potentially life-threatening," which could encourage excessive use of force.
Abbott said he "fully support(s) training reform" but is staunchly opposed to cuts.
Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, who spearheaded the recent push to cut APD's budget, said the governor was standing in the way of accountability.
"In the wake of unjustifiable shootings and violence by police, our community has pushed the city to make much needed change," he said in a statement. "Now, Gov. Abbott is supporting proposals to protect departments that do the wrong."
In addition to police funding, Abbott also announced a forthcoming statewide plan to address homelessness, which he said would include a ban on public camping.
Austin City Council voted in 2019 to overturn a camping ban, which prompted intense pushback from concerned residents, business owners and state officials, including the governor. Two council members faced conservative challengers in runoff elections last month who ran on reinstating the camping ban. Incumbent Jimmy Flannigan lost his race to Republican Mackenzie Kelly; Alison Alter narrowly defeated her opponent Jennifer Virden.
Earlier this week, Save Austin Now, a local campaign led by Travis County GOP Chairman Matt Mackowiak, submitted thousands of signatures in support of a petition that, if validated, will allow Austin voters to decide whether to reinstate the campaign ban. It is the group's second attempt to do so after an earlier batch of signatures was ruled invalid before the November election.
Abbott called Austin "the front door for the state of Texas" and said such a ban is important for the city's appeal to visitors. "When they come into this community, they need to know that they're going to be safe."
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When Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he would rescind business capacity limits and a statewide masking mandate on Texas Independence Day, he framed it as a step forward. "With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny," he said during a press conference at a Mexican restaurant in Lubbock.
But some local restaurants and bars, which have been caught in the regulatory crosshairs since Texas' first positive COVID test 364 days ago, have chosen to ignore Abbott's overture. Instead, they will continue to maintain pandemic precautions once the executive order takes effect next week, citing a desire to keep their staff and patrons safe.
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(AUSTIN, TEXAS) Austonia has hired Claire Partain as a reporter covering Austin FC, the MLS expansion team that will be Austin's first major league sports franchise.
Partain is a former sports editor for the The University Star, Texas State University's daily newspaper. She edited, covered sports, produced podcasts, and hosted a pre-game TXST football tailgate live series. Partain has been freelancing with the company since January, prior to accepting a staff position.
A native of Fairfield, Texas, Partain grew up playing youth soccer. In her high school years, she played alongside her mother in what was then called the Freestone County Hispanic Women's Soccer League.
Claire's coverage philosophy: "I like to bring out the humanity of sports, and I want to make this the most accessible sports coverage possible."
She notes that soccer is the predominant sport for young people. "It's a global sport, and we're more connected to the world than older generations."
That approach fits the team's already visible presence in Austin, says Austonia CEO Mark Dewey. "Austin FC has established itself as a leading Austin brand, one that stands for a more unified Austin community, a bigger global presence for Austin and fun. Austonia shares those values."
Partain's soccer coverage begins immediately, with her free, hosted text service—Austonia FC. For updates, special access and inside info, all moderated by Claire, sign up below.
Austonia is the city's independent, free, locally-owned and all-digital source for Austin news, information and entertainment.
Connect with Austonia through its daily email newsletter and text updates, @austonianews Instagram feed, @austonianews and @austinist Twitter feeds, @austonianews Facebook page and its website austonia.com.
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Austin Public Health will release another batch of first dose COVID-19 vaccine appointments for Thursday on Wednesday evening. A department spokesperson estimates between 3,000 and 4,000 slots will be available.
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