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Gov. Abbott Signs Bill Banning Homeless Encampments On Public Land In Texas

 A bill signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Greg Abbott prohibits encampments on public property in Texas.
A bill signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Greg Abbott prohibits encampments on public property in Texas.

Gov. Greg Abbott has signed into law a bill that bans homeless encampments on public property in Texas.

The bill makes it illegal to set up shelter or store belongings for an extended period of time. The offense is a class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500. The bill also makes it illegal for cities to adopt policies that effectively legalize public encampments, as Austin did in 2019.

Abbott has been a staunch critic of the Austin City Council's decision to roll back criminal penalties for behavior related to homelessness. He called for a bill at the start of the legislative session in January.

In May, Austinites voted to reinstate bans on public camping, as well as limitations on panhandling and where people can rest in public. The measure, Proposition B, received financial backing from the Travis County GOP and Abbott's campaign.

The new state law requires law enforcement officers to make reasonable efforts to direct Texans toward medical or mental health services and shelters before ticketing them. Opponents pointed out the bill doesn't provide funding for resources to help with these efforts, but state lawmakers did set aside $12.5 million annually in the state's two-year budget for health programs to assist people who are homeless.

The law also limits cities from using parkland for temporary encampments. That provision was added by Lakeway Republican state Sen. Dawn Buckingham less than 24 hours after the Austin City Council had discussed potential city-owned sites for encampments. City staff had offered a list of 45 potential campsites, but was met with pushback citywide.

Earlier this month, Austin Parks and Recreation staff found only one site would be legally allowed if the statewide ban passed.

Copyright 2021 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Andrew Weber is a freelance reporter and associate editor for KUT News. A graduate of St. Edward's University with a degree in English, Andrew has previously interned with The Texas Tribune, The Austin American-Statesman and KOOP Radio.