Texas’ GOP-led Senate passed a statewide ban on homeless encampments throughout the state that would also bar the use of public parks to provide a temporary shelter for homeless people. The ban appears to be directed at the state capitol, Austin.
Under the measure, people can’t camp in a public area unless they are authorized to do so. Authorized camping is for recreational purposes or if the property was approved for sheltering people who are homeless.
Those who violate the law will face a misdemeanor charge punishable by a fine of up to $500, according to the legislation.
The House approved the measure earlier in May, but the Senate passed the bill with two amendments and sent the final draft of the bill back to the House.
The bill directs police to advise campers where they can legally stay and would tell counties and cities to direct campers towards diversion programs, said Republican State Sen. Dawn Buckingham.
“I hope you will join me in taking this important first step in ending this homelessness crisis,” Buckingham told senators on the floor, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Buckingham also noted that those who would face penalties would “have to have a shelter and you have to have those other signs of planning on living there for a while.”
The bill was amended after the City of Austin presented a proposal that listed 18 city parks as possible areas for homeless camps.
“Setting up a fence in a park and allowing one to set up their tent is not the humane answer solving homelessness,” she said. “That still leaves these folks vulnerable and is another way the city of Austin is trying to ignore [the] will of voters and this bill.”
During a May 1 ballot, voters in Austin authorized Proposition B to reinstate a ban on using parks for homeless camps.
State Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, a Democrat, said the bill would not address homelessness in Texas.
“I understand the desire of this body to send a strong message to the city of Austin,” Eckhardt said, according to the Texas Tribune. “I will not defend the city of Austin for lifting a camping ban without a plan, because it did not help these poor people find their way to a home. But also I cannot support a statewide camping ban that does very little to help these poor people find their way to a home.”