Gov. Abbott Says 'Texas Will Override' Austin's New Public Camping Rules

Jun 24, 2019

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says he expects state lawmakers to overturn Austin's revision to its homelessness ordinances.

In a tweet last night, Abbott said "there are far better solutions for the homeless & citizens," referring to the Austin City Council's approval of new rules that loosen regulations banning camping in public.

City Council approved ordinances revising the homelessness rules early Friday. Revisions to bans on aggressive panhandling and sitting or lying down on a public sidewalk passed unanimously. Council members argue the revisions still ban behavior that could prevent public health or safety issues, without explicitly banning asking for money, or sitting or lying down on the sidewalk. 

There was disagreement over a revision to the camping ordinance, however. District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo and District 7 Council Member Alison Alter voted against the change, arguing the language was unclear – and that, as written, the rule would allow for camping on public sidewalks.

In an interview Monday with KUT’s Jennifer Stayton, Mayor Steve Adler said he thinks Abbott mischaracterized the ordinance. “I assume that someone on his staff didn’t really explain what it was that the city had done, because we remain laser-focused on public safety and public health,” Adler said. “My hope is ... that Austin’s going to develop a program that the state will be proud of – a program that the Legislature will scale-up to cities across our state as an effective way to deal with a challenge which is out of hand and in many cities across the country and getting worse in the state of Texas.”

Adler said he hopes the state would partner with Austin to expand current programs like its initiatives to tackle veteran and youth homelessness – which, he says, aren’t possible under the new state law that caps city spending. “The Legislature just made it harder for us to be able to deal with homelessness in our city,” Adler said. “That said, we’re going to get the job done, because it is still our job and our goal and our priority to do it.”

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley expressed concern over the camping rule at a Friday press conference, arguing the law bans camping only on city-owned parkland.

"If it is not on private property ... but instead it is just city land that is non-parkland, we may have limited opportunities, if we cannot establish that that camp is dangerous or hazardous," Manley said.

This post has been updated.