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1.1.22 – AUSTIN (KXAN)

Twenty-three new Texas laws have officially gone into effect as of New Year’s Day 2022. Many of them are fairly straightforward, but one involving public safety raised some controversy as it passed through the Texas Legislature.

Republican authors say Senate Bill 23 intends to fight against cities and counties trying to change police budgets.

“They aren’t allowed to reduce any funds or reallocate without securing voter approval,” said Jennifer Szimanski, Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas Public Affairs Coordinator.

Szimanski represents the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT). She is in support of SB 23 which requires counties with one million residents or more to hold a vote before making any change to redirect or reallocate police budgets.

“I think it’s obvious to most Texans now that this isn’t going to work,” said Szimanski. “Hopefully, we don’t have to deal with complaints as a result of this legislation.”

The Republican-led effort to protect police department’s from budget cuts is a direct response to the Austin City Council’s decision to reimagine the police budget, or reallocate services out of police control.

“You can hear the frustration in my voice, I’ve had it,” said Ken Casaday, Austin Police Association President. “I made the community aware of what’s going on. If that’s the community people want to live in, then so be it.”

Casaday attributes the higher crime rates across the city to the lack of police officers.

“You have this bill to help, but it’s up to the city council, and the city manager to do what’s right,” said Casaday. “There’s only so much legislation can do. These traffic fatalities, the homicides, the shootings that are in downtown over the weekend. There’s only so much we can do when we’re understaffed.”

Austin Mayor Steve Adler argues the City of Austin police budget is higher than it’s ever been and positions are funded. He says the struggle right now is getting officers in the door.

“It’s a tough job. It’s a really important job. Here in Austin, we pay our police officers more than anyone else in order to ensure we have the best possible talent,” Adler said. “The hiring issue is one that’s being felt in cities across the country. For most of the police functions, there was no real reallocation at all.”

Texas Democrats who raised concerns over SB23 say it will only “micromanage” city councils and county commissioners.

“It was about police reform and police accountability. This is really to punish big cities, the City of Houston, and urban cities from local control,” State Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, said.

SB23 would not affect Travis County unless it decides to change the budget further in the next fiscal year.

Another similar bill that passed this year is House Bill 1900. It went into effect in September and freezes property taxes in cities with more than 250,000 residents that reduce police funding from the previous year, while also redirecting sales tax revenues to the Texas Department of Public Safety.