AUSTIN — After two years of chaos on the streets of Texas’ capital city, state lawmakers have taken action to restore public safety in Austin and cities across Texas.
On Thursday, the Texas Senate approved House Bill 1925, which prevents vagrant camping in public places across all of Texas and prohibits local officials from turning public parks into homeless campsites. The Senate passed the proposed law in a bipartisan vote of 27-4.
“This is a humanitarian issue, plain and simple,” said the bill’s House author, State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R–Southlake), earlier this month. “The intentions of this bill are to spur local governments to do more to help the population of people experiencing homelessness. Letting them camp under highways is not the answer.”
The proposed law was introduced after a public disaster unfolded in Austin over the past two years. In 2019, the Democrat-run Austin City Council repealed the city’s longstanding public camping rules, allowing unrestrained homeless squatting in nearly all public spaces (except city hall, notably).
The decision sparked a swarm of new tent cities along sidewalks and neighborhoods, a drastic increase in the city’s homeless population, a more dangerous public environment (including record surges of violent crime), and a wildfire of public backlash.
The issue culminated earlier this month, when Austinites of all political parties, after a long grassroots petition campaign, voted overwhelmingly to restore the city’s original public camping rules.
However, the drama persisted, as the Austin City Council defied the vote—first delaying enforcement of the citizen-approved rules by two months, and then proposing this week to convert numerous public parks and recreation centers into homeless campsites.
But the Senate acted on Thursday to pre-emptively stop that, amending their state law to also prohibit city government officials from turning parks into encampments, thus converting the Austin chaos into more public safety protections for all Texans.
“These are the very parks where a child that testified in committee in support of this bill would fill up jars of syringes before they could even start to play on the playground,” said State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, the Senate sponsor of the proposed law.
“Members, setting up a fence in a park and allowing one to set up their tent is not the humane answer to solving homelessness. That still leaves these folks vulnerable and is another way the city of Austin is trying to ignore the will of their voters and this bill.”
The bill will now head back to the House for final approval of the Senate amendments before it can be sent to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
The state Legislature has only 10 days left in the legislative session.