Legislative Battles

HB 1900: City Defunding

For Houston, House Bill 1900 is a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist.

The intention of the bill seeks to secure public safety funding, which is not irrational. Yet the enforcement mechanisms are nothing short of central state planning that will break up communities to enforce its will.

On June 2, City Council approved by a 16-1 vote a $5.1 billion budget for the fiscal year 2022.

  • The Houston Police Department received an increase in funding of another $30.7 million, bringing its coffers to $955.8 million.

After the American Rescue Plan was enacted, Mayor Turner made clear that the City would use these resources for an additional police cadet class and raises for Houston firefighters. This makes clear that the draconian de-annexation consequences in HB 1900 look unnecessary and unwise.

The Texas Municipal League characterized it succinctly in written testimony against HB 1900: “The disannexation penalty is particularly short-sighted, and, if implemented, would be extremely damaging to Texans who live in our largest Texas cities.”

Working together with law enforcement, the City of Houston has worked to increase public safety by promoting youth employment opportunities, providing access to mental health and substance use services and improving the physical environment with clean air and quality parks. These actions improve public safety, but cannot be funded under HB 1900 until public safety funding is increased.

House Bill 1900 seeks to address the complex issue of public safety with a “one size fits all” approach that penalizes local communities.

Technically, it is one size fits eleven. For reasons the author failed to explain, except to say he “felt like it,” the restrictions in this bill apply to Plano and Corpus Christi, but not to Amarillo or Irving.

The population bracket in the bill applying to cities above 250,000 in population was somehow a magical number that, once crossed, alters the investment in public safety. Amendments to this nonsensical bracket all failed.

What makes the bill even worse is how is how many commonsense amendments it avoided for real world examples and programs strongly supported by law enforcement.

For example, Rep. Jarvis Johnson (himself a former Houston City Councilman) offered amendments that targeted real world implications of this measure.

  • In Houston, we have mental health professionals answering 911 calls at the Houston Emergency Center. The first of its kind in the nation, the Crisis Call Diversion (CCD) program is a collaboration between the Houston Police Department (HPD), Houston Fire Department (HFD), Houston Emergency Center (HEC) and the Harris Center for Mental Health & IDD.

Providing a better service – immediate access to mental health professions – that has become a best practice recommendation nationwide is directly threatened by the provisions of this bill.

HB 1900 would require that Houston keep this program within the Houston Police Department, as moving these civilian positions over into any other department – even if the person sits in the same desk and does the same job - would be “defunding the police.”

  • Another example raised by Rep. Johnson was the overtime that local law enforcement receives when working major events. Under Mayor Turner, Houston has hosted the Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four, the 2017 and 2019 Major League Baseball World Series, and various other events.

Requiring that money spent on overtime to raise the baseline budget for the next fiscal year is non-sensical. No business expects to generate or expend revenue absent a major event. Why does HB 1900 tie the hands of local budget writers after their community successfully hosts these events?

Overall, House Bill 1900 is not well thought out or applicable in almost all circumstances. Passing statewide mandates about how local tax dollars must be spent is almost always a bad idea and worse precedent. The consequences, from the disannexation policy to limitations on increases because of an elevated baseline, actually make funding for public safety more difficult. The City of Houston firmly opposed this legislation.