By\u00a0Jolie Mccullough\u00a0and\u00a0Juan Pablo Garnham\r\nThe Texas House on Friday passed a bill to financially penalize the state's largest cities if they cut their police budgets. The measure was sent to the Senate after two days of heated debate and emotional speeches, with the bill authors calling to "back the blue" and the opposition decrying the bill as political propaganda.\r\nHouse Bill 1900\u00a0comes after a year of civil rights advocates calling on cities to\u00a0reduce what they spend on policing\u00a0and to\u00a0reform police behavior. Those calls were spurred by high-profile deaths at the hands of police like\u00a0George Floyd\u2019s in Minneapolis and\u00a0Mike Ramos\u2019 in Austin.\r\nAmong Texas' largest cities,\u00a0only Austin cut its law enforcement funding\u00a0last year, though almost all of that decrease came from an accounting shift of money that still allows traditional police duties to remain funded, but potentially in different city departments. Still, the city's response to some activists' calls to "defund the police" prompted harsh and immediate backlash from Republican state leaders, who have pointed to\u00a0fast-rising homicide rates\u00a0throughout the state and country as a reason to maintain police funding levels.\r\nGov.\u00a0Greg Abbott\u00a0became laser-focused on Austin\u2019s budget and \u201cbacking the blue,\u201d making legislation to punish cities that decrease police funding\u00a0one of his emergency items\u00a0this year.\r\nAfter initial passage Thursday, HB 1900 was finally approved on a 90-49 vote Friday and sent to the upper chamber. The Senate's related bill, which would require an election before cities could\u00a0decrease police funding, passed out of the upper chamber last month. It's unclear how either chamber will react to their counterpart's proposal.\r\nHB 1900 was authored by Republican state Reps.\u00a0Craig Goldman,\u00a0Will Metcalf,\u00a0Greg Bonnen\u00a0and\u00a0Angie Chen Button, and Democrat Richard Pe\u00f1a Raymond. If a city with more than 250,000 residents was determined by the governor's office to have cut police funding, the bill would allow the state to appropriate part of a city\u2019s sales taxes and use that money to pay expenses for the Texas Department of Public Safety. Such cities would also be banned from increasing property taxes or utility rates, which could have been used to compensate for the reapportioned sales taxes.\r\nThe bill does allow cities to cut police department budgets if such a decrease is proportionally equal to an overall city budget decrease. Cities can also get approval to cut police budgets if expenses for one year were higher because of capital expenditures or disaster response. The bill would also let neighborhoods annexed in the last 30 years to vote to deannex themselves from a city that has decreased funding to its police department.\r\n\u201cAs municipalities across this nation are defunding their police departments, are taking money away from the police budgets and putting them elsewhere in their city budgets, this bill makes sure that in the state of Texas, that is not going to be allowed,\u201d Goldman, a Fort Worth Republican, said on the House floor Thursday.\r\nState Rep.\u00a0Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas, however, argued that lawmakers speaking about the bill had failed to address "the elephant in the room."\r\n"This summer we saw protests in the streets, we also saw elected officials decide to make decisions because of police brutality," she cried. "We refuse to improve policing in this state. Instead, we attack those who are trying to take care of our citizens."\r\nShe denounced the Legislature for failing to move the Texas George Floyd Act, a sweeping set of reforms on police behavior and accountability which has stalled. The House and Senate\u00a0have each passed standalone bills\u00a0on individual proposals within the omnibus bill, like restricting police chokeholds and barring arrests for fine-only traffic offenses.\r\nSeveral other Democrats offered amendments Thursday to add exceptions for when a city could cut police department funding. State Rep.\u00a0Trey Martinez Fischer\u00a0of San Antonio offered leniency so city council members wouldn't opt against a necessary increase in police funding for fear they could not turn it back the next year. And state Rep.\u00a0Jarvis Johnson\u00a0of Houston filed multiple amendments, including one to not punish cities for cutting civilian positions within law enforcement agencies. He said the Houston Police Department has more than 1,200 civilian jobs, including janitors and other positions he listed off.\r\n\u201cAt any given time that Houston Police Department decides we no longer need a car attendant, we no longer need a car attendant supervisor, we no longer need a truck driver, we no longer need a typist, that does not mean that the city of Houston has decided to defund the police,\u201d he said.\r\nThe amendments failed, as the Democrats denounced what they called partisan rhetoric and a move for state control over large cities.\r\nOn Friday, state Rep.\u00a0Gene Wu, a Houston Democrat, offered up amendments to first eliminate the 250,000 population cap which Democrats argued only punished larger, more liberal cities. When that failed, he attempted to set the population cap at 50,000, then 200,000. Both amendments failed. His argument that the 250,000 limit was an arbitrary number and goes against the legislative intent of public safety for all Texans could buttress potential legal challenges if the bill is signed into law.\r\n"If we\u2019re true to our word to say why we are doing this ... then we should accept this amendment to apply to all 30 million Texans," he said.\r\nRaymond, however, the Democrat joint author on the bill from Laredo, defended HB 1900. He said raising funds is how we improve other functions, like education and health care.\r\n"You invest more in training our law enforcement officers, not less," he said. "That\u2019s how you make it better."\r\nLeaders from some of Texas\u2019 biggest cities have declared that they are against the bills, including Austin interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon. He said there are instances where local governments need to increase funding on other services or initiatives and that won\u2019t always negatively impact police departments.\r\n\u201cThese decisions must be made at the local level by our community when and to the degree needed to help build and maintain trust,\u201d Chacon said at the bill\u2019s committee hearing.\r\nIn Austin, the police department\u2019s total funds were slashed by a third last year, but only about 7%, or $31 million, was cut immediately and instead put toward other public services, like housing and mental health. The rest of the money was put into transitionary funds to shift some police duties into civilian city jobs and evaluate if more responsibilities could be transferred in the future. Since then, the City Council has\u00a0moved the city\u2019s crime lab, along with its funds, out of the police department.\r\nRepublican lawmakers have linked Austin\u2019s policies to an increase in crimes, but experts have pointed out that during the last year crime rates\u00a0have increased across the country, including in some Texas cities like Fort Worth which have increased police budgets. And Austin police officials\u00a0have noted\u00a0that rising homicide rates started before any budget discussions, similar to nationwide crime trends.\r\nTwo weeks ago, the Senate approved\u00a0Senate Bill 23, authored by state Sen.\u00a0Joan Huffman, R-Houston, which would require cities or counties to hold an election before reducing police funding. That bill was first heard, but not voted on, in the House State Affairs Committee Thursday morning. Civil rights advocates and city leaders have criticized the proposals, arguing that local governments should be in charge of these budgetary decisions.\r\nNick Hudson, policy and advocacy strategist with American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, argues that HB 1900 is the most aggressive of bills proposed against cities and that it would leave the power to penalize local governments on an office directly under supervision of the governor, rather than with voters like SB 23 does.\r\n\u201cThe measures related to annexation and tax rates are really some of the most punitive among the bills that seek to punish cities for reducing law enforcement budgets,\u201d Hudson said. \u201cIt is unusual that Texas House would want to give the governor more power after they expressed concern about the governor's handling of federal COVID relief money.\u201d\r\nPolice union leaders have supported the bill, saying that reducing funding makes their work more difficult.\r\n\u201cWhat you're actually doing is causing officers to do twice as much or a lot more than what they were doing before,\u201d Chris Jones with the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas said during the committee hearing of the bill. \u201cI know this is kind of a controversial topic, but we think it's important to understand that there's going to be crime and there's going to continue to be needs \u2026 You're not going to have a civilian be able to go in and break a bar room fight.\u201d\r\nJones also supported the idea of putting this to a vote, as SB 23 proposes, saying that it will \u201callow citizens to have a say.\u201d\r\nThis story originally published by the Texas Tribune.