With the heat wave comes crime: How the legislature keeps law enforcement funding at bay

For many, summer in Texas means escaping the heat, but Northwest Houston police are seeing a different type of wave on the horizon: burglary of motor vehicles. 

At a recent Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce Safety and Security Task Force meeting in June, HPD commander Steve Spears noted a surge in burglary of motor vehicles (BMVs) in the Willowbrook area, up 30 percent from previous years. The area experiences high traffic due to summer travel and shopping, but drained law enforcement resources make it difficult for HPD officers to respond accordingly. 

As it turns out, this lack of resources is a problem that extends far beyond the city of Houston.

In response to the recent spike in BMVs and automobile theft, Lt. Tommy Hansen from the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office argued that law enforcement are getting the short end of the stick from the Texas legislature. Lt. Hansen, who is chair of the Texas Automobile Burglary and Theft Prevention Authority, met with various law enforcement officials back in April 2019 and discovered they were all missing promised funding from the Legislature. 

According to a bill enacted in 1991, Texas lawmakers approved a $1 add-on to all auto insurance policies to fund a burglary and theft task force. However, law enforcement officials claim this funding never made its way to their pockets in order to help curb these crimes. And in 2011, HB 1541 passed through the legislature and made the total add-on to insurance policies $2. HB 1541 maintained that the funding collected from the add-on increase could be appropriated only to the Automobile Burglary and Theft Prevention Authority for purposes of automobile crime prevention. 

Lt. Hansen said that although the provisions in this bill collects close to $50 million per year from Texans’ auto policies, the task force only receives about a fourth of that funding, or close to $12.8 million. 

The remaining money ends up in the General Revenue fund, rather than with law enforcement. While Texans continue to pay extra for their insurance policies, law enforcement lacks the money to purchase more high-tech equipment to go after auto theft offenders. What’s more, many Texans don’t know about this provision or their contributions to the legislature’s bank. 

While criminals go unpunished for burglarizing Texans’ vehicles, it’s unclear who receives the majority of money from the fund, or what the legislature is doing to remain transparent, accountable, and putting Texans’ best interests at the forefront.

Joe Straus, former House speaker, wakes the sleeping centrist giant of the Republican Party.

Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) will return to Texas politics after retiring from his representative seat in 2017. With the announcement of Texas Forever Forward, a new PAC for which he will serve as chairman, it appears Straus’ hiatus from the political scene may have been gearing up for something bigger.

After contributing $2.5 million of his old campaign account into the funding for Texas Forever Forward, the group had $8 million in funding as of January of this year. According to the PAC’s purpose statement, under his leadership we should see a focus on education and embracing of the state’s diversity.

In a statement Straus said, “We are launching this effort because I believe Texas needs leaders who are forward-looking and dedicated to bringing creative, problem-solving ideas to the new challenges our state faces as our population rapidly grows.” 

While some in Texas are joyous, remembering Straus as a reasonable leader and constructive politician, members of his own party are wary of his moderate-leaning ideology. 

According to the website, this PAC will support candidates, elected officials, and ideas that focus on the unique challenges in Texas. The vision statement goes on to share the promotion of a message that is “optimistic, inclusive, entrepreneurial and future-focused, and advance a shared vision to create the greatest possible opportunity for future generations of Texans.” 

Straus served 14 years in the House, with five terms as Speaker of the House. He had the reputation of working across the aisle, focusing on economic and business ventures for Texans rather than social issues. In fact, there were several moments in his leadership where he clashed with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick in the fight for Texas priorities.  

During the 86th legislative session, Texas felt different than in previous years. The 2018 election shifted things in the Lone Star State, and citizens are more aware and politically engaged. There were some political moves that followed party lines, but the legislature largely touted inclusivity and working together.

Texas Forever Forward states that they want to “promote a thoughtful, conservative approach to governing.” Straus may be looking at a battle, but his stance hasn’t changed much since his House days. “It’s time to unite Texas in civic participation and ensure our next decades are the very best in our long, proud history.”