The governor discussed legislative priorities that he believes will ensure a safer future for the state of Texas. He also delivered remarks and answered questions from the media.
A metal fence was put up in front of Austin Police Headquarters Thursday where protesters last year shouted demands for the city to defund the police department. In response to that, the Austin City Council last year redirected public safety money to several social programs.
"We cannot and will not let cities like Austin to defund police," said Abbott at the roundtable, saying he will make good on his crackdown promise. "This Session, Texas must pass laws that give cities a clear choice, either fulfill their duty to keep their residents safe, or lose access to all of their tax revenue."
That issue was one of several topics the governor discussed with representatives from law enforcement advocacy groups. The threat of a state takeover of the Austin Police Department was not on the meeting agenda, but when asked, the governor said he is now considering what’s described as safe zones.
"We are working on strategies that we will announce later where we will propose to make sure we are able to ensure the safety of people who operate in the Capitol region and the University of Texas region," said Abbott.
The president of SafeHorns, Joell McNew, who was part of the discussion group, likes the zone approach.
"Absolutely, when we heard the conversation of just being proposed a Safe Zone, that is exactly the model we wanted all along, which is similar to the University of Southern California, where you are keeping students, faculty, and visitors to the University of Texas safe," said McNew.
Bail bond reform is also on Abbott’s legislative to-do list. Unlike Texas Democrats, he wants to make it harder for people to get out of jail, especially those with a violent criminal history. Abbott has endorsed the Damon Allen Act, named for a State Trooper who was shot and killed in Freestone County in 2017 by a man who recently was released from jail on bond for multiple charges including Aggravated Assault on a Public Servant.
The judge who set the bond reportedly said he didn’t know about the man’s criminal record. The legislation would create a statewide database requiring judges to review criminal histories before setting bail amounts.
Abbott did indicate there may be some common ground with Texas House Democrats on their plan for police training and accountability reforms. "I fully support training reform as well as additional funding for training," he said.
Eliminating homeless camps was another off-topic item. Earlier this week Abbott shared a message to the City of Austin on Twitter saying that if the city doesn't reinstate the ban on homeless camping that "the state will do it for them."
Abbott made the response after members of "Save Austin Now" turned in over 27,000 signed petitions Tuesday, hoping to reinstate Austin’s homeless camping ban by getting it on the May 2021 ballot. The first effort to reinstate the ban was ruled invalid back in August, and they decided to try again starting December 1.
On Thursday, when asked about his post, Abbott said something was coming. "I do expect to announce a statewide plan to address homelessness that will include a ban on camping as well as other ideas to make sure Texas will effectively and aggressively address the homelessness situation," he said.
Officials from Austin were not part of Abbott's discussion group. In a published report Thursday, Mayor Steve Adler stated what the city is doing now to address the homeless "doesn't work." A statement was sent later in the day to FOX 7 which appeared as if Mayor Adler was backtracking from his earlier comment:
"When Council revised the camping ordinance, in favor of ending homelessness, we said we wanted to better identify "reasonable time and place opportunities and limitations on camping, sitting and lying," even as we focus on taking everyone out of tents and off our streets. We have to continue that work. And we have to do it better."
Abbott also said he will soon release an update on his Gun Safety and Gun Violence initiative. The plan is the result of another group Abbott put together in 2018 in response to several violent mass shootings that took place in Texas.