Council Member Casar responds to Governor Abbott's ultimatum

Governor Abbott is stepping in, and the State of Texas may not be far behind him.  

"What it sounds like is some level of political posturing rather than coming in to help with the issue," said Council Member Greg Casar. 

Abbott sent a letter to Mayor Adler on Wednesday and tweeted a video about making changes to the city’s policies that make camping, sitting and lying in public places legal. "Some businesses are struggling to keep sidewalks clear.  Some homeowners feel threatened," Abbott said in the video. 

He gave a clear...and near deadline.

"If Austin does not fix its homeless crisis by November 1st, I will unleash the full authority of every State agency," Abbott said.

Is that a threat?  Well, Mayor Adler certainly doesn't see it that way. "I want you to know I understand the seriousness of this letter.  But I choose to read this letter as an offer of assistance.  And this is not a City challenge, this is a State-wide challenge," Adler said on Wednesday.

Not exactly what the Governor meant, according to St. Edwards Political Science Professor Brian Smith.

"I think what Adler wants is money and I think that Abbott is not going to provide any of that." Smith says going after Austin is in Abbott's playbook. "Loves to do it.  It's red meat for his Republican base and nothing runs better for Republicans than running against Austin," Smith said.            

So what could happen on November 1?  

One example: Abbott's letter says the Health and Human Services Commission has broad sweeping authority in the way of diseases, sanitation and health protection. Also, the Department of Public Safety can enforce State law and will add troopers in Austin areas that pose greater threats.

"I think if they don't comply, Abbott will have to do some very visible things which probably means involving law enforcement, Statewide law enforcement, protecting buildings, showing a presence," Smith said.  

"Rather than throwing stones and making threats that sound like sending in the State Troopers like its martial law, it would really be helpful if he actually came in as a partner, came into some of the meetings," Casar said.  

Council Member Casar, who spearheaded legalizing camping, sitting and lying, says it would be great to have the state's help. "The City Council dedicated 10 times more dollars and resources to addressing homelessness than the State does.  The State sent us a paltry $660,000 for next year to address issues of homelessness," Casar said.

Casar says he welcomes the governor to the party but sending in State Troopers doesn't seem positive or helpful.

"And it makes me ask the question 'is it just because he doesn't like Austin and he's picking on Austin?' because there are more people experiencing homelessness in Dallas than there is in Austin.  There are more people experiencing homelessness in Houston than in Austin," Casar said.  

Casar says he's hoping the City Manager will soon clarify what the ordinance changes mean for local law enforcement.  He says regardless of whatever timeline or deadline they get from the Governor, the City is already working as fast as they can to house people.



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