By Bethany Blankley
The Texas Senate approved House Bill 1925, which would outlaw vagrant camping in public places across Texas. The bill passed with bipartisan support in the Senate after passing the House on May 6.
The bill now heads back to the House to approve amendments added by the Senate before it can be sent to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
The bill prohibits all local officials in the state of Texas from ever implementing policies like the one the Austin City Council did. In 2019, Austin repealed the city’s longstanding public camping rules and allowed unrestrained homeless squatting in nearly all public spaces except near City Hall.
After a two-year battle, Austinites successfully overturned the city council’s decision by passing Proposition B, which prohibited homeless encampments on public spaces. However, their victory was short-lived.
The city council announced it would postpone implementing the proposition by two months. Then, on Tuesday, it proposed to establish homeless encampments in 45 public recreation areas and parks, saying it would finalize the list of which ones by July 1.
Save Austin Now, a bipartisan group behind getting Proposition B passed, said the city council’s plan not only ignores the voters, but also would “make matters worse by placing permanent encampments in every single neighborhood in Austin, and in many cases inside city parks or near locations with large collections of children and families like libraries.”
The proposal includes some of Austin’s most beautiful parks, the group says, and would “take over five recreation centers used predominantly by low-income working Austinites.”
“What the voters said was clear,” Save Austin Now argues. “Austinites voted for the proposition for three primary reasons: First, the city council’s policy led to their beloved parks being overrun with trash, needles, and feces. Second, feelings of safety in neighborhoods and around schools close to encampments had plummeted. Third, personal experiences and encounters with verbal and sometimes physical harassment.
“Placing homeless encampments permanently in every single city council district in our beloved public parks doesn’t just ignore the will of 58% of Austin voters, it throws hot water in their face.”
Two days after the city council’s announcement, the state Senate passed HB 1925, which prohibits all city government officials, such as the Austin City Council, from turning parks into encampments.
“This is a humanitarian issue, plain and simple,” the bill’s author, state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R–Southlake, said. “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.”
State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, the sponsor of the companion bill, said setting up tents in public parks “is not the humane answer to solving homelessness.” It also creates a health hazard for children, she argues, saying, “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.