AUSTIN, Texas — A day after his State of the State address, Gov. Greg Abbott joined KVUE and the Austin American-Statesman's Tony Plohetski to discuss his stance on multiple issues facing the City of Austin.
In his Monday address, Abbott declared five emergency items to be addressed in the current Texas legislative session, some of which were heavily influenced by Austin itself:
- Expanding broadband access
- Passing laws that prevent cities from defunding the police
- Fixing the "flawed bail system" via the Damon Allen Act
- Election integrity so Texans can have "trust and confidence in the outcome of elections"
- Coronavirus-related civil liberty protections for "individuals, businesses and health care providers that operated safely during the pandemic"
Over the past several months, Gov. Abbott has been heavily critical of Austin Mayor Steve Adler and the city council's decision to move millions from the Austin Police Department's budget into other City programs.
In Tuesday's interview with Plohetski, Abbott discussed plans for the State to take control of policing around the area of the State Capitol, calling the building "the front door" to Texas for visitors from across the state and country and around the world.
"There are proposals that are in the budgets that have already been submitted by both the Texas House and Texas Senate that would work toward that goal of making sure we do have a safe region that would begin north of the University of Texas area, probably around 32nd Street, and go south of the Capitol, probably all the way down to the river, and stretch from I-35 to either Lamar or the MoPac area," Abbott said.
"These are areas where visitors come in and they must be kept safe there. And because we've seen a reticence by the Austin City Council and the City of Austin to step up and protect this region, the State feels a need to step forward and get that job done," the governor continued.
Abbott said he believes it's extremely important that everyone who visits this region feels safe. When Plohetski brought up that violent crime statistics in Austin didn't go up significantly from 2019 to 2020, Abbott said it "sure seems like we hear varying statistics coming out" but regardless, he believes no resident or visitor would say there isn't crime happening in the region that the State could potentially take control of.
"There is not a single one of your viewers who thinks there is not crime taking place in these regions because they see it themselves," Abbott said in part. "Ask the store owners and operators on Congress Avenue if it is as safe there as it was before the City of Austin eliminated the ban on camping, and they will tell you that it is not."
Abbott said several factors played into his decision to make preventing cities from defunding the police an emergency item but, ultimately, "We just want to be very clear that Texas isn't going to go down the pathway that some of these other states and cities have gone down. We're not going to defund the police and we're not going to devalue the role that they play in our society."
The governor has been vocal about his opposition to Austin's homeless camping policies. In January, he said that if Austin doesn't reinstate the public camping ban, the Texas government would. Local groups are currently working to put an item on the ballot in the upcoming May election to put the issue up to voters.
When Plohetski asked Abbott Tuesday what he believes the answer is to solving homelessness challenges in Austin and across the state, the governor said it is in part a matter of helping people experiencing homelessness, but it's also a matter of preventing certain behaviors.
"We will be working on a statewide law that will first understand that the homeless do need help and we want to help put them on a pathway to a better life, whether it be helping them get off of an addiction that they have, helping them get a home or a living space if that's what they need, helping them get training for a job, whatever the case may be, helping them get the food and health care they need access to," Abbott said.
"All of that said, [there is] one thing that we all have to agree upon and that is allowing the homeless to urinate, defecate and leave drug needles on city streets is not compassion, is not helping anybody. It's not helping the homeless and it's not making the community safer," the governor continued. "And that's exactly why, one thing we want to do at the State level is to ban homeless camping like what exists in Austin, Texas."
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