The City of Austin has been mired in controversy in recent months as an ordinance has allowed the unmitigated camping of homeless people around town. Now Gov. Greg Abbott is saying if the City doesn’t act soon, he will use the power of the State to stop the problem.
In a letter to Austin Mayor Steve Adler on Wednesday, Abbott gave city officials until November 1 to change or rescind the recently adopted ordinance before he says he will act.
“As the Governor of Texas, I have the responsibility to protect the health and safety of all Texans, including Austin residents,” Abbott wrote.
“Further inaction by you and the Austin City Council will leave me no choice other than to use the tools available to the State of Texas to ensure that people are protected from health and safety concerns caused by the Austin homeless policies. As a result, I will give you until November 1, 2019, to demonstrate consequential improvement in the Austin homelessness crisis and the danger it poses to the health and safety of the public. If meaningful reforms are not implemented by then, I will direct every applicable state agency to act to fulfill my responsibility to protect the health and safety of Texans in your jurisdiction.”
Since the camping law’s approval, 34,000 citizens have signed a petition calling for the decision to be reversed, and hundreds of Austinites have spoken out at city council meetings against the ordinance, with many arguing that the onslaught of homeless camping has led to unsafe conditions in the city.
On top of that, the University of Texas police chief and U.S. Rep. Chip Roy have both written open letters to the mayor, urging him to reverse the policy for the sake of students’ and the public’s safety.
So far, however, the chorus of public backlash has seemingly fallen on deaf ears to Adler and the council, as they’ve refused to make any changes to the policy.
But if the council fails to act before Abbott’s deadline, residents of Austin should expect agencies such as the Health and Human Services Commission and Department of State Health Services to use their rule-making authority to bring order to the issue.
Should the situation come to that, it would not be the first time the state government has had to rein in the Austin City Council; in 2017, the Texas Legislature preempted an Austin ordinance that temporarily forced out ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft from the city.
Gov. Abbott’s full letter to Mayor Adler can be read here.