The Texas Legislature is considering several bills introduced by several different senators and representatives requiring cities to maintain spending levels for their police departments regardless of local issues and a city’s needs. The proposed bills would punish a municipality by denying state revenue increases if its police spending dropped below the previous year, or didn’t expand at a standardized statistical rate as its population grows. These requirements do not take into consideration revenue fluctuations, changes in police strategies or urgent needs in other city services.
Senate Bill (SB) 23, introduced by Senator Joan Huffman requires an election if spending on a per capita basis falls below a previous year’s level, or if the total budget for the police department is less, as a percentage of the city’s overall budget, than the previous year.
SB 23 was originally heard in the Senate Jurisprudence Committee on March 23, with a one-day public notice, which is allowed under Senate rules. After the hearing, the bill was voted out of the committee that same day but was recalled for additional amendments. The substitute version was voted out on April 1.
On March 25, the House Committee on State Affairs heard three more bills that followed the same theme – penalties in the form of revenue losses if a legislated level of police spending is not maintained or increased, as necessary. The bills are not identical, but they all have some common themes: Penalties for reducing spending from one year to the next, or for decreasing the size of the force or cutting police overtime.
House Bill (HB) 1900 was substituted and voted out of committee on April 6. It is not identical to SB 23. It is not clear which of the many House bills under consideration will be the one that is preferred, but HB 1900 appears to be a frontrunner.
Irving City Manager Chris Hillman submitted a letter to the State Affairs Committee commenting on these bills. This letter was written before the substitute version of HB 1900 was voted out of committee. The substitute removed the sections related to requiring the city to maintain and expand overtime spending, but the other concerns remain the same.
Irving has no plans to reduce funding for the police department. The city’s short-term plan calls for increasing the number of sworn officers. In the past five years, the budget for the police department has increased by almost 28 percent, and total positions have increased by a net of 35 after 76 police crossing guards were removed in 2019. The city entered into a contract with a private company to manage crossing guards in 2019.
Nevertheless, the city has concerns about state rules that don’t take into account local conditions; changes in population and population density; and efficiencies realized in the police department. A flat rule that police must always be a certain percentage of the budget increases pressure on a municipality to limit spending for other programs. Cities already are capped by state law in how much revenue can be raised, and these bills, if passed, would essentially create a floor for spending, squeezing everything between the police budget and the total amount that can be raised under the state revenue cap.
As of this writing, SB 23 has been set on the Senate Intent calendar, which means it can be voted on without further notice when the full Senate convenes after April 12. HB 1900 has been voted out of the State Affairs committee, but it is not yet set for a hearing in the House.
To comment, members of the Irving delegation can be contacted via email: