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Save Austin Now, a local nonprofit that successfully campaigned to reinstate a ban on public camping, announced a follow-up petition effort to address concerns about public safety, including rising violent crime rates, police staffing levels and diversity within the force.
"This is not our first rodeo," Save Austin Now co-founder and Travis County GOP chairperson Matt Mackowiak said at a Wednesday press conference.
The petition calls for a series of changes:
- Implementing a minimum staffing level of two police officers per 1,000 residents
- Mandating officers dedicate at least 35% of their time to community engagement
- Adding 40 hours of required post-cadet training
- Offering bonuses to officers with foreign language proficiencies and those whom the department wants to retain
- Requiring council members, the mayor and their staff attend the citizen police academy
"It is not contradictory to support APD and to be active in advocating for minority groups," Save Austin Now co-founder and Democratic activist Cleo Petricek said.
Citizen-led petitions allow registered city voters to pass laws without City Council approval. If 20,000 eligible residents sign the petition and it is validated by the city clerk, council can either adopt the petition into law as written or put it up to voters, as was the case with Proposition B. Save Austin Now aims to collect 50,000 signatures in 50 days, with a goal of making it onto the November ballot.
Save Austin Now leadership was joined by public safety advocates and Republican elected officials, who cited Austin's growing population and rising violent crime rates as reasons for supporting the petition effort. Opponents say the petition stands in the way of police reforms, which thousands of Austinites marched in support of, and falsely equites the increase in murders to local policy when it is a trend seen nationwide.
There have been 31 homicides in Austin this year, nearly double the number that had occurred by this time last year and closer to triple the number that had occurred by this time in 2019. APD launched a gun crime prevention program in partnership with the Travis County District Attorney's Office last month in light of rising violent crime rates, and U.S. Attorney Gregg Sofer announced Operation Undaunted, a new federal program designed to address violent crime in Austin, late last year.
District 6 Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, the lone Republican on City Council, said she supports this petition because of the success of Prop B and her concerns about bringing her 11-year-old daughter to work with her at City Hall. "The police need our support," she said. "My colleagues on the dais have not shown that support to officers."
Please email and call city council about what happened to me (again) today. Link to email council: https://t.co/EK14LDaboQ #atxcouncil #txlege pic.twitter.com/Kx44joWbRY
— Mackenzie Kelly ❗️ (@mkelly007) May 25, 2021
Former District 8 Council Member Ellen Troxclair, also a Republican, said the current council has failed to live up to its promises to residents. "They told us they were going to reimagine public safety," she said. "What has been done is that they have cut the budget."
Austin City Council voted unanimously last August to immediately cut $20 million—or about 5%—of the APD budget, including eliminating funding from three planned police cadet classes, after thousands of Austinites marched in protest of police violence and hundreds of constituents called in to support defunding. Council recently approved a pilot police cadet class, which is due to start June 7 after a yearlong training academy hiatus due to myriad concerns, including hazing and discriminatory recruiting practices.
Ken Casaday, Austin Police Association president and Save Austin Now board member, said the cuts have led to increased vacancies within the department and slowing response times.
APD Case number- 211430419
Shooting Call came out at 5:35am this morning. No units available city wide for 12 minutes.
First Apd patrol unit Assigned at 5:47am
Apd made scene at 5:51am, 16 minutes after the call came out. Victim critically injured after being shot in the head.
— Kenneth Casaday (@KennethCasaday) May 23, 2021
District 4 Council Member Greg Casar, who spearheaded the push to cut APD's budget, issued a statement in response to the Save Austin Now announcement. "George Floyd was killed one year ago, and instead of working on police reform, this group is fear-mongering and trying to avoid accountability," he said, adding that the petition would fund APD at the expense of other public safety needs. "This petition goes directly against what the Black Lives Matter movement is all about."
Chris Harris, director of criminal justice programs at Texas Appleseed, tweeted to dispute the claim that the rising murder rate in Austin is linked to recent budget cuts. "Given that murder is up nationwide & coinciding w/ a pandemic, those making this claim are clearly ill-informed or being dishonest," he wrote.This story was updated at 5:20 p.m. on Wednesday to include a responses from Council Member Greg Casar and criminal justice reform advocate Chris Harris.
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Texas voters are split on whether Gov. Greg Abbott should run for a third term and whether Matthew McConaughey should run at all. But Democrats are clear: they want to see Beto O'Rourke on the ballot.
These are the findings of a Quinnipiac University poll of registered voters released this week.
Abbott and McConaughey received the highest favorability ratings of the elected officials, candidates and potential candidates, according to the Quinnipiac poll.
- Abbott: 49%
- McConaughey: 42%
- O'Rourke: 34%
- Former Texas GOP Chair Allen West: 25%
- Former Texas senator and Republican challenger Don Huffines: 8%
Overall, 48% say Abbott does not deserve to be reelected to a third term compared to 46% who say he does. "A Trump favorite in a state that is turning less red in recent election cycles, Abbott has a decent but in no way overwhelming grasp on reelection," Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Tim Malloy said in a press release.
Abbott, McConaughey and Beto O'Rourke could vie for governor in 2022. (Office of the Texas Governor)
Voters are also divided on Matthew McConaughey, who is reportedly considering a gubernatorial run. Forty-one percent of voters say they would like to see him run, compared to 47% who say they wouldn't.
The poll found that Democrats and Independents favor the Oscar-winning Austinite, whose party affiliation is unclear. Forty-seven percent of Democrats would like to see him run, compared to 43% who wouldn't. Forty-four percent of Independents would, compared to 43% who wouldn't. Republicans, on the other hand, say 60%-29% they would not like to see him run.
Another possible candidate is former U.S. Representative and presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke, who is also reportedly mulling a bid. Overall voters say 52%-41% they would not like to see him run for governor. But 77% of Democrats and 50% of Independents would, according to the poll.
"McConaughey and O'Rourke may still be on the fence, but their numbers suggest they have the attention of voters," Malloy said in the same release.
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Austinites will soon be able to train like some of Hollywood's biggest stars as F45, a fitness franchise backed by major celebs, like Mark Wahlberg and David Beckham, is on its way to Austin.
F45 listed Austin as the location of its corporate headquarters in a June 21 federal filing—a big shift for the California company. The fitness franchise is preparing for its initial public offering, which will be as an Austin-based company.
F45 will be one of many California companies—Tesla, Oracle and Samsung—that have recently expanded in the Capital City. The company has several famous investors on its side—famed basketball player Earvin "Magic" Johnson and golfer Greg Norman in addition to Wahlberg and Beckham.
The fitness company is opening a 44,000-square-foot headquarters, located at Penn Field on 801 Barton Springs Road, with a lease running through 2029. F45 was one of the early adopters of Austin-based real estate-technology platform AnthemIQ, helping tenants find commercial real estate.
F45 focuses on one-on-one 45-minute workouts, which patrons watch on in-studio displays. With 2,247 franchise agreements spanning across 63 countries, F45 also has offices in Australia and England.
"We believe this flexibility will enable us to capitalize on our estimated long-term global opportunity of over 23,000 studios," the company said in its filing.
The greater Austin area already has 11 F45 locations, which take up 1,600 square feet of space each.
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The staffers are coming! Texas Lege staffers turn to Twitter after special session announcement, defunding
Texas Legislature staff members have taken to social media to raise awareness—and also just air their misfortunes—following the summer special session announcement and their own defunding.
In a game-seven-type move by Texas Democrats, the 87th Texas Legislative session was capped off by a last-minute walkout to avoid a final vote on a bill that would add restrictions to voting.
Needless to say, Gov. Greg Abbott—who cheerleaded the bill throughout the legislative session—was not thrilled.
Not up to date on your Texas Lege drama? Abbott was pointing to when former Texas State Senator Wendy Davis staged a dramatic hours-long filibuster over a 2013 abortion bill, which the public gallery aided. The "story" Abbott is referring to ended with him and other prominent conservatives sweeping the 2014 statewide election and the bill passing in a special session.
According to Abbott, the regular session centered around supporting "hardworking Texans and building a state that is safer, freer, healthier, and more prosperous."
However, the two items deemed at the top of Abbott's wish list for this session—election integrity and bail reform—did not reach his desk at the end of the session, both championed by Abbott to be "must-pass emergency items."
"It is deeply disappointing and concerning for Texans that neither reached my desk," Abbott said in a statement. "Ensuring the integrity of our elections and reforming a broken bail system remain emergencies in Texas, which is why these items, along with other priority items, will be added to the special session agenda."
Abbott said he expected lawmakers to work out their differences prior to the special session and continue to pass other emergency items and priority legislation.
So, everything is cool, right? No worries?
Hours before the no vote, as the clock ran out on the bill that he championed, Abbott tweeted that he would veto funding for the entire state legislative branch. The decision would impact not only Texas lawmakers but their staff and aides. "No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities," Abbott tweeted May 31.
I will veto Article 10 of the budget passed by the legislature. Article 10 funds the legislative branch. No pay… https://t.co/KNyuNvxP55— Greg Abbott (@Greg Abbott)1622484820.0
With pay, health insurance and other support for staffers on the line, the threats became a reality on June 18 with an official veto of the funds from Abbott.
The veto effectively nixes all funding for the legislative branch.
"Texans don't run from a legislative fight and we don't walk away from an unfinished business," Abbott wrote in the veto. "Funding should not be provided for those who quit their job early, leaving their state with unfinished business and exposing taxpayers to higher costs for an additional legislative session."
However, questions have been brought up over the constitutionality of the veto itself. Section 24 of the Texas Constitution makes not paying members of the legislature illegal.
The special session is set to begin July 8. So, what does this mean for lawmakers, staffers and aides?
No pay, no insurance... and Twitter followers?
The staffers took their final stand on Twitter where they aired their grievances with the situation and asked for followers to increase their footprint.
Meet Jen Ramos, a staff member for Texas State Senator Judith Zaffarini—and also defunded by Abbott.
My name is Jen. I’m one of the #txlege staffers defunded by Greg Abbott. Apparently now I’m supposed to ask for Tw… https://t.co/pteKADP3Hj— Jen Ramos ✨ (@Jen Ramos ✨)1624466531.0
And she's not alone. Use the hashtag #txlege and you'll find other similar messages online, like Camille's and Hector's and more.
My name is Camille, my friends call me Cam or Cammie. I’m one of the #txlege staffers defunded by Greg Abbott. And… https://t.co/mOvcjxTiUL— Camille Lasin (@Camille Lasin)1624474153.0
My name is Hector. I’m one of the #txlege staffers defunded by Greg Abbott and who had to deal with elections stuff… https://t.co/88PINm9KCv— Hector 🏙🤠 (@Hector 🏙🤠)1624466987.0
My name is Jake Salinas. I'm the TX Dem that saved the film industry in TX and broke quorum on SB7 Now our Gov h… https://t.co/PLf9ScA4Ev— Jake Salinas (@Jake Salinas)1624464237.0
It's unclear whether Abbott and other prominent Republican lawmakers will come together with Democrats to overturn the veto and continue providing insurance and regular pay for lawmakers, staffers and aides.