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Bill Banning Homeless Encampments In Texas A Step Closer To Becoming Law

An encampment of people experiencing homelessness under Ben White Boulevard in South Austin during the coronavirus pandemic.
Gabriel C. Pérez
House Bill 1925 largely targets rules in Austin that allowed public encampments. Those rules were thrown out by Austin voters earlier this month.

A bill that bans homeless Texans from setting up encampments on public land has been given the final go-ahead from the Texas Legislature, teeing up a likely approval from Gov. Greg Abbott.

Bans are already on the books in one form or another in most major Texas cities, including San Antonio, Houston and Dallas. House Bill 1925, from North Texas Republican Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, largely targets Austin's 2019 ordinance, which had allowed camps. That ordinance, adopted in 2019, was overturned by a citywide referendum earlier this month.

State senators tacked on two amendments to the bill, and House lawmakers approved those amendments Friday, sending the measure to Abbott.

The Senate amendments make violating the ban a cite-only offense, meaning people who camp, set up a shelter or store their belongings on public land without permission wouldn't be arrested. They'd instead be given a ticket for a class C misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Another amendment bans cities from using public parkland as temporary campsites without state approval. The Austin City Council has discussed doing just that in recent weeks, though the proposal has proven controversial.

Austin reinstated its ban on public camps, as well as prohibitions on resting in public and panhandling, after voters passed Proposition B, a citizen-led referendum rejecting 2019 policies that rolled back criminal penalties.

Opponents of HB 1925 and Proposition B have argued the threat of criminal penalties doesn't help homeless Texans get into housing and that the state needs to do more to bolster efforts to house people.

Ahead of the Senate vote earlier this month, Austin state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, Travis County's former top official, said without any funding, HB 1925 "does very little to help these poor people find their way to a home.”

Lakeway Republican Sen. Dawn Buckingham, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, filed an amendment to the proposed state budget to set aside $12.5 million for programs to help get Texans off the streets. It's not yet clear whether that money will be included in the final budget.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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