Texas Senate passes bill that would ban public camping, using parks for designated homeless camps

House Bill 1925 passed the Texas Senate 27-4 on May 20. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
House Bill 1925 passed the Texas Senate 27-4 on May 20. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

House Bill 1925 passed the Texas Senate 27-4 on May 20. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

This story has been updated to include comments from Steve Adler and Sarah Eckhardt.

A measure that would ban public camping statewide passed the Texas Senate in a 27-4 vote May 20, and after final review in the Legislature it could be signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott and become effective this year.

House Bill 1925, authored by several members of the Texas House and sponsored by state Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, would make camping in public spaces including parks a Class C misdemeanor, require local governments to seek state approval for the establishment of designated campsites for the homeless and prevent such camps from being located in parkland. The bill passed the House on May 6.

On the Senate floor Thursday, state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, called for the state to make additional investments in other areas such as housing, health care and workforce training alongside measures to penalize camping ahead of her vote against the bill.

"I will not defend the city of Austin lifting their camping ban without a plan—it didn't help these poor people find their way to a home. But, I cannot support this statewide camping ban—it also does little to help these people find their way to a home," Eckhardt said.

The bill's initial passage through both state legislative chambers comes as the city of Austin is grappling with the mitigation of its homelessness crisis and weeks after more than 57% of Austinites voted to reinstate their own municipal camping ban. The passage of a provision keeping local governments from setting up sanctioned homeless campgrounds in parkland also follows a preliminary briefing from Austin city staff May 18 that identified a range of parks as possible locations for such campsites.

Whether any of those sites would come under serious consideration by City Council remained to be seen with several members questioning the viability of those options after the first staff report. A second staff briefing on the designated campground concept is expected in early June.

A city spokesperson declined to comment on whether the bill's passage could affect Austin's own phased approach to enforcing a ban on public camping and the ongoing development of a sanctioned campsite plan until it becomes law.

The Senate's vote to pass HB 1925 was immediately lauded by Save Austin Now co-founders Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek, the leaders of the political action committee behind the reinstatement of Austin's homeless ordinances through Proposition B. Mackowiak and Petricek have repeatedly spoken out against City Council's approach to tackling homelessness this spring and said the bill's movement toward becoming state law once again signaled bipartisan disapproval of Austin's strategy.

"Austinites demanded a safe and clean city for everyone when more than 90,000 ... voted in favor of Prop. B in the May 1st municipal election," the pair said in a statement. "Since then, the city has outrageously proposed city parks and public libraries among their camping sites, showing that they are not taking the May 1st election result seriously. Austin’s political leaders need to wake up. The Texas Legislature is responding to the disastrous results of the public camping ordinance. When will City Hall start to listen?”

In a statement May 20, Mayor Steve Adler said Austin would involve the state in its campground selection process, while also echoing Eckhardt's calls for additional homeless and housing support at the state level.

“The Senate is now proposing that the governor be involved in selecting sites of sanctioned camp areas. We will certainly work with the governor on selecting sites for camping, but what we really need is his help with mental health intervention and housing," Adler said.


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