The March episode of ATXL Live focused on Proposition B, which is on the ballot for the upcoming May 1 election along with other proposed charter amendments. Prop B, or what is commonly referred to as the camping ban, is the ordinance to make it a criminal offense for sitting or lying down in select areas, soliciting in a public area, or camping in unauthorized areas. This ATXL Live discussion featured Matt Mackowiak (Co-founder of Save Austin Now), Mayor Pro-Tem Natasha Harper-Madison, and Matt Mollica (Executive Director of ECHO-Ending Community Homelessness Coalition). Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday, who serves on the Save Austin Now board of directors, was also scheduled to participate in the discussion but could not attend because of a last-minute police matter.
Prop B was added to the May ballot following the submission of 26,000 valid signatures to the city clerk by the PAC, Save Austin Now, on February 4, 2021. Save Austin Now was co-founded by discussion panelist Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek who advocate for the reinstatement of the camping ban.
On February 12, 2021, Austin City Council approved the language for the ballot measure as follows: “Shall an ordinance be adopted that would create a criminal offense and a penalty for sitting or lying down on a public sidewalk or sleeping outdoors in and near the Downtown area and the area around the University of Texas campus; create a criminal offense and penalty for solicitation, defined as requesting money or another thing of value, at specific hours and locations or for solicitation in a public area that is deemed aggressive in manner; create a criminal offense and penalty for camping in any public area not designated by the Parks and Recreation Department?”
Mayor Pro-Tem Natasha Harper-Madison who voted to repeal the camping ban in the June 2019 city council vote, continues to support that decision saying she will not be voting to reinstate the camping ban now.
Matt Mollica, the Executive Director of ECHO (one of Austin’s leading organizations working to end homelessness), also expresses that he would not support the reinstatement of the camping ban. In a Facebook post, ECHO noted that “a camping ban is not part of any strategy to end homelessness”.
Local news station, KXAN, additionally covered this ATXL Live discussion. View the full discussion below or read this KXAN story to learn more about each panelist's position on the camping ban and hear their arguments.
In response to the announcement of Prop B appearing on the upcoming May ballot, Texas Governor Greg Abbott stated in a January tweet that "[i]f Austin doesn't reinstate the ban on homeless camping the state will do it for them”. In fact, two nearly identical bills have been introduced during the current Texas legislative session to permanently ban public camping at a state-wide level. The first bill (H.B. 1925) was introduced by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake) and the second (H.B. 987) by Sens. Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway), Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), and Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown).
Early voting will begin one month from today on April 19, 2021 and go through April 27, 2021. To register to vote or to check your registration status, visit votetravis.com.