State, local governments in conflict over police budget reduction preemption laws

Various state and local governments have come into conflict over laws preempting municipalities from reducing their police department budgets. Preemption occurs when a law at a higher level of government is used to overrule authority at a lower level. In this case, several states have implemented legislation either prohibiting local governments from reducing their police budgets, or instituting penalties on local governments that do so.

Conflict around this issue emerged in 2020 as some municipalities considered reducing their police department budgets, often as part of a policy response to the May 2020 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Florida was the first of the states to recently pass a police department budget reduction preemption law Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed HB1 in April 2021. Under the law, a citizen or government official can challenge a police department budget reduction with the Administration Commission. The governor chairs the commission, whose other members are cabinet officials. The Administration Commission would then hold a hearing on the proposed budget change and has the power to approve the budget or amend it. The Commission’s approval or modification of the budget would be final.

In May 2021, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed HB286 into law, which prohibits municipalities from reducing police department budgets more than 5% in a year, or cumulatively over five years, with an exception for budget reductions caused by financial hardship. Police department budget reductions had been proposed in Atlanta and Athens-Clarke County in 2020, but neither municipality reduced their policing budgets.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed Texas’ police department budget reduction preemption bill (HB1900) into law on June 1, 2021. The law imposes penalties on populous municipalities that reduce police department budgets, preventing them from collecting several types of tax revenue and requiring they allow recently annexed areas of the city to vote to void their annexation. HB1900 may apply to the city of Austin, which approved a budget in 2020 that planned to reallocate around $150 million from the police department budget to hiring other public safety responders, beginning new public safety programs, and moving certain departments under police department authority to other state agencies. There is uncertainty surrounding the application of the law to Austin, due to questions regarding the state constitutionality of HB1900 and whether all of Austin’s budget reallocation would qualify as a police department budget reduction.

To read more about police department budget reduction preemption laws as they develop, click here. Ballotpedia currently covers twelve policy areas of preemption conflicts, including coronavirus, energy infrastructure, and firearms. To view all of Ballotpedia’s areas of preemption conflict coverage, click here.

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