Travis County Commissioners took up the issues of deportation and prescription medication donation at its voting session Tuesday.
Anti-deportation clause: Travis County approved an agreement with the City of Austin to share the cost of the county’s central booking facility. It’s a pretty standard agreement, approved every year. But this time around, the county approved a clause added by an Austin City Council member. In short, it asks the Sheriff’s Office to stop helping deport immigrants who are here unlawfully.
The County approved the anti-deportation clause — but what changes, if any, will it bring?
“How do you see this language added to the interlocal agreement on central booking affected the current practices? I don’t see it affecting our practices at all. The Sheriff still says his position has not changed,” says Commissioner Brigid Shea.
Shea and her colleagues tussled over what power they had to enforce Council member Greg Casar’s amendment. In so many words, it asks the Travis County Sheriff to stop handing illegal immigrants who are arrested over to federal authorities. But, the clause has no legal force. Judge Sarah Eckhardt says the Commissioners’ only power is a budgetary one:
“We do hold the power of the purse over the Sheriff’s Department.”
“Yes, we have the power of the purse, but we also have to be very responsible. Us, as elected officials, are not his bosses. And we can’t tell him what to do,” says Commissioner Margaret Gomez.
She says the Sheriff’s bosses are, instead, the voters.
A new Sheriff will be elected next year, and all three Democrats in the race so far have said they’ll look to end the deportation practice in Travis County. The lone Republican candidate so far says he would continue it. Current Sheriff Greg Hamilton has not decided whether he’ll run for reelection. That primary will happen in March.
Prescription donation: Getting prescription medication to jail inmates who need them can be expensive. Medicine costs at Travis County jails reach roughly $2 million every year. So, to manage costs, jails will now begin accepting donated medication from local pharmacies.
Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty has big plans: He wants “to reach out to the Walgreens of the world” and ask for donations, particularly of medications that treat mental health issues and HIV.
Those are the pills and injections that cost the most, says the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. And despite Daugherty’s ambitious plan to call up Walgreens, there are some limitations on donating medicine to inmates.
“These medications have never been given to a patient. It needs to be pharmacy-to-pharmacy,” says Kathryn Geiger, medical director at the county jails.
She says they’ll be reaching out to places like CommUnity Care clinics and nursing homes. Austin/Travis County Integral Care has already arranged a donation. These are prescription medications set to expire soon, and if not donated, they would be thrown out. Travis County Commissioners have approved local jails accepting medicine donations from pharmacies through next year.
The Sheriff’s Office says interested pharmacies can contact them to talk about possible donations.
Sobriety center: The Commissioners also took up the issue of building a sobriety center (sometimes referred to as a drunk tank) in Austin. The proposed sobriety center needs approval from both the County Commissioners and City Council. On Tuesday Commissioners agreed to move the proposal forward to joint discussions with Council.