Scores of Travis County leaders and residents gathered April 24 for Travis County Judge Andy Brown’s first State of the County Address.

During his debut address, Brown highlighted the county's progress in tackling critical issues, including overdose prevention, gun violence reduction and providing mental health care for individuals cycling through the jail system. He also outlined his commitment to advancing a passenger rail project connecting Austin and San Antonio.

Here are four takeaways from the address.

1. Mental health care prioritization

Brown emphasized the county's commitment to prioritizing mental health care for individuals caught in the cycle of incarceration and mental illness.

The county has a long-term plan to build a diversion center that provides mental health care to individuals who commit nonviolent crimes instead of sending them to jail.

The county is kicking off that long-range plan with a pilot program that will launch this summer in collaboration with the city of Austin, Central Health and Integral Care.

Phase 1 of the program will focus on treating low-acuity patients using Integral Care’s facilities. Phase 2, slated to launch this fall, will focus on treating patients with more severe mental health challenges. Brown said he hopes to collaborate with more community partners in Phase 2 and establish a “No Wrong Door” drop off for police and first responders.

2. Opioid crisis response

Brown’s speech addressed the county’s worsening drug crisis, as a March report from Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services found that from 2020 to 2022, Travis County had twice as many opioid deaths than any other county in Texas.

The report also found opioid deaths have sharply increased since the pandemic, from an average of 30 overdoses per month in 2018 to 100 per month in 2023.

Brown said the Texas Legislature has failed its responsibility to expand substance use treatment to adequately address the crisis, leaving the county to tackle the problem on its own. He pointed to the $860,000 the county allocated in August to provide Narcan kits, methadone treatment and peer support services for the next two years.

The funding builds on the overdose prevention steps the county took in 2022, including declaring opioid deaths a public health crisis and distributing hundreds of Narcan kits to bars, vending machines and the pockets of law enforcement officers.

3. Gun safety

A hospital-based gun safety program will kick off this summer, Brown said, as gun violence remains the No. 1 cause of nonaccidental death in Travis County.

The program, first announced in November 2022, will provide medical care and mentorship to victims of gun violence. The goal of the program is to prevent victims from retaliation as people who are victims of interpersonal violence have a higher risk of being reinjured or committing a crime themselves, according to The Health Alliance for Violence Intervention.

“Gun violence has devastating impacts on individual victims, and its consequences impact our entire community,” Brown said. “But by intervening in the moment of crisis through this program, we'll be able to connect victims to important resources and provide support for impacted communities.”

4. San Antonio to Austin rail investment

Brown concluded the evening with a commitment to advocate for a passenger rail connection from Austin to San Antonio, despite previous setbacks in securing funding for the project.

Austin and San Antonio were both left out of an $8.2 billion package the Federal Railroad Administration announced in December to fund rail projects across the country.

Brown, along with Mayor Kirk Watson and grassroots organization Restart Lone Star Rail District, have been lobbying to gain federal funding and cooperation from Union Pacific, which owns the tracks that could provide rail service between Austin and San Antonio.

“In order to really make our county accessible we also need to champion safe, reliable and affordable transportation with a passenger rail system connecting the fastest-growing metros in the country,” Brown said. “After all, who does not want to get on board a nice, modern train to watch our favorite pro basketball team, the Spurs, play instead of braving I-35?”