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A petition to reinstate Austin's ban on public camping—abolished a year ago in a widely-debated move by Austin City Council to address homelessness—does not have enough signatures to make it on the November ballot, Austin City Clerk Jannette Goodall ruled Wednesday.
On July 21, the local nonprofit group "Save Austin Now" said they had collected 24,598 signatures—well over the 20,000 required to put their initiative on the ballot in November.
In reviewing the petition, however, the city clerk said she discovered a number of issues.
Nearly a hundred signatures were removed because of requests from signers. The clerk's office also discovered that the petition contained two versions of the language being proposed in the ordinance, which led to 397 signatures being removed.
Of the remaining 24,201 signatures, the clerk's office used a random sample to verify the petition.
"Of the 6,051 submitted sample lines checked under the sampling method, 1,147 of the sample lines were disqualified on account of being duplicate signatures of registered voters who signed more than once (41), or for other reasons (1,106)," Goodall wrote.
Ultimately, the clerk estimates that there are 19,122 valid signatures on the petition, which is not enough to make the ballot.
"The probability that checking all 24,201 submitted signatures would find a total of at least 20,000 valid signatures is less than 3 in one billion," Goodall wrote.
The petition—and what would have been a November ballot vote had it been validated—called on the city to roll back the year-old city ordinance allowing camping in public spaces. The goal was to reinstate previous ordinances in place before the ban was lifted in June 2019—no panhandling at night, no public camping, no sitting or lying in public places.
Save Austin Now co-founders Cleo Petricek and Matt Mackowiak believe the clerk's office inappropriately threw out thousands of signed petitions.
"We are exploring several options available to us, including possible legal action," they said in a joint statement shared with Austonia. "This fight is not over."
Last summer, the Austin City Council abolished the city's ban on public sitting, panhandling, lying and camping after homeless advocates said such bans criminalize people who live on the street, and trap them there by making them targets for police action and creating criminal records.
In October, the council revisited the issue and limited where camping was allowed, banning it from sidewalks, near houses, near the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless and other shelters, and outside businesses during operating hours, among other limits.
In an Austonia poll taken shortly after the group turned in their petition, the majority of respondents—nearly 80 percent—said they would vote to ban public camping.
While the people that serve the unhoused praise the decriminalization of homelessness, the local Republican party &… https://t.co/skyhygVUsq— Chris Harris (@Chris Harris)1594907901.0
This story has been updated to include a statement from Save Austin Now.
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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that Texas will opt out of further federal unemployment benefits related to the pandemic effective June 26, citing the number of current job openings and concern about potentially fraudulent unemployment claims. The benefits include a $300 weekly supplement.
"The Texas economy is booming and employers are hiring communities across the state," Abbott said in a statement. "According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the number of job openings in Texas is almost identical to the number of Texans who are receiving unemployment jobs."
TWC listed 837,273 job openings as of Monday afternoon compared to 226,849 unemployment insurance claims filed statewide between March 31 and May 1. An estimated 1 million Texans were unemployed as of March, according to latest estimates released by the state agency.
Some local business owners, including Doc's Backyard Grill owner Charles Milligan, suspect unemployment benefits are deterring Austinites from returning to work. But others agree with economists who say multiple factors are at play, including health concerns and child care availability.
We're seeing lots of posts about how nobody wants to work right now. Just wanted to share our experience.
We received over 60 resumes for a taproom bartender position we posted last week. Every applicant we've set up an interview with has shown up.
People want 𝘨𝘰𝘰𝘥 work.
— Austin Beerworks (@AustinBeerworks) May 11, 2021
Abbott also cited fraudulent unemployment claims. Between March 2020 and April 2021, TWC received 4.48 million unemployment benefit applications, 611,000 or around 14% of which were tagged as suspicious. Most of those tagged were blocked before any benefits were paid out, according to an April 29 press release.
Federal law requires the effective date of such benefits change to be at least 30 days after the U.S. Department of Labor is notified.
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