Austin City Council supports parental leave benefits for first responders, settling APD excessive force lawsuits

Austin City Council members met Dec. 9 at City Hall. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin City Council members met Dec. 9 at City Hall. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

Austin City Council members met Dec. 9 at City Hall. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

Austin City Council rounded out its 2021 schedule with a wide-ranging meeting covering items from officials' priorities in the housing space to planning for lawsuits against video streamers, such as Netflix.

Council's Dec. 9 regular meeting also included items that will see dozens of rooms added to the area's violence shelter capacity and move toward granting new parental leave benefits to the city's first responders.

Hotel purchase to provide for shelter space

A $6.8 million purchase sponsored by District 4 Council Member Greg Casar and approved by council Dec. 9 moves along the city's conversion of a Super 8 hotel at 5606 E. 51st St., Austin, into a new domestic violence shelter.

“This is going to essentially double our shelter capacity, which is groundbreaking for the city of Austin to do this," said Kelly White, co-CEO of The SAFE Alliance violence assistance group.


Once open, the facility will offer case management and additional support for children and families, and dozens of new shelter beds.

Lawsuits over APD's alleged excessive force

Casar also promoted a plan to end the city's legal fight over two lawsuits claiming unnecessary injury by the Austin Police Department during last year's police brutality protests.

The suits from plaintiffs Justin Howell and Anthony Evans claim that both were "unreasonably" shot by police projectiles while attending the downtown protests. The lawsuits said the plaintiffs were unarmed and posed no threat. Evans' suit states he was struck in the face, resulting in a broken jaw, and Howell's states that a "less-lethal" beanbag left him with a traumatic brain injury.

Casar said he wants to see the city settle with Howell and Evans, and proposed having council reduce previously-approved legal spending for both cases, essentially directing Austin's contracted lawyers to avoid going to trial.

“In my view, we need to do right by these injured young men and their families rather than spend resources fighting them in court. These young Austinites deserve an apology and help with their medical expenses, and I believe that if we approve the item ... it will encourage settlement of these lawsuits rather than continuing litigation," Casar said.

The measure unanimously passed with direction from District 10 Council Member Alison Alter that will see council hash out additional legal details next month.

Housing items pass

Several items developed through council's ongoing look into housing affordability also passed Dec. 9.

From District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo, Alter and Mayor Steve Adler came two policies related to limits on residential development and accessory dwelling units, or ADUs. The first will allow some housing to come to areas currently zoned for commercial or office uses only, with the requirement that a portion of new residential space is affordable. And the ADU item, which Tovo said she and others may build on over the coming months, is aimed at streamlining the process for adding accessory spaces on residents' properties.

Discussions over a proposal from Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison tasking city staff with a yearlong study of housing development costs were more contentious. Harper-Madison's push for an in-depth analysis of such costs ended up passing, but only after extensive back-and-forth with other council members over their proposed revisions and additions to the original item.

Harper-Madison both accepted and declined several alterations to what she labeled as a simple information request over concerns from her colleagues about the study's cost, burden on staff and overall scope.

“We have countless—countless—working- and middle-class Austinites that are facing the choice between skyrocketing rents or living in the suburbs, homelessness, displacement ... All those things are happening right now because of the rules we follow right now," Harper-Madison said. "Having this comprehensive cost data really laid out for us I think will be absolutely vital in the work that we as policymakers know we have to do to help to tackle this affordability crisis.”

Paid parental leave for first responders

Council also backed a request from District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen for an exploration of extending paid parental leave to first responders. While Austin's civilian employees already have that benefit, sworn APD, Austin Fire Department and Austin EMS employees do not, and there is also uncertainty over how the concept would play into ongoing labor negotiations between the city and first responder unions.

The proposal moved ahead, and council will review a city management analysis of the costs and overall plan within a month.
By Ben Thompson

Austin City Hall Reporter

Ben joined Community Impact Newspaper in January 2019 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Northeastern University in Boston. He spent more than two years reporting on Montgomery County and The Woodlands area before moving to Austin in 2021 to cover City Hall and other news throughout the city. Contact Ben with questions, tips or feedback at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @BThompson_CI.