Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed four “back the blue” bills into law on Tuesday, increasing criminal penalties for activities that interfere with law enforcement and imposing penalties on cities that defund the police.
“Efforts to defund the police are downright dangerous, and these laws will prevent cities from making this reckless decision,” Abbott said in a statement. “I applaud the Texas Legislature for joining me in passing these priority items and for making sure Texas remains a law-and-order state.”
Among the bills Abbott signed, House Bill 1900 states that for any city with a population over 250,000 that defunds the police, the state can withhold sales tax collected by the city and give it to the department of public safety. Cities that defund the police will lose their annexation powers for 10 years, and any area annexed in the past 30 years can vote to dis-annex from the defunding city.
Senate Bill 23 requires a county with a population of over one million not to reduce or relocate the budget of law enforcement agencies unless the county receives approval from voters.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 6 counties in Texas have over one million in population: Bexar County, Collin County, Dallas County, Harris County, Tarrant County, and Travis County.
A week ago, Abbott pledged he would sign the bill after no Austin police units were available to respond to a shooting victim who was critically wounded for 12 minutes.
“This is what defunding the police looks like,” Abbott wrote on Twitter at the time. “Austin is incapable of timely responding to a victim shot in the head.”
The Austin City Council voted last summer to reallocate up to $150 million from its police department. The “defund the police” slogan became a common cry during the Black Lives Matter protests, following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis last May.
Proponents of “defund the police” argue that governments should spend less on law enforcement and more on social services in an attempt to address perceived racism.
The two other bills increase criminal penalties for activities interfering with or harming law enforcement officers.
House Bill 9 increases the criminal penalty to a state jail felony offense for anyone who knowingly blocks an emergency vehicle or obstructs access to a hospital or health care facility.
The bill was introduced in response to a California incident last September, during which protesters were arrested for blocking a police car with two injured officers from entering a hospital.
House Bill 2366 increases criminal penalties to a felony for injuring police officers with laser pointers and creates an offense for using fireworks to obstruct the police.
Senate Bill 23 will take effect on Jan. 1, 2022. All other three bills will be effective on September 1, 2021.
Last month, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp also signed a bill into law forbidding large budget cuts for local police.
Jack Phillips contributed to this report.