The Sheriffs’ Association of Texas hosted Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for a regional sheriffs’ breakfast in Amarillo on Feb. 16. Nearly 20 sheriffs were joined by area county judges and city officials to discuss policy priorities in preparation for the 88th Legislature, which begins Jan. 10, 2023. Major points of the discussion centered around diversion of mentally ill patients from county jails, proposals to prohibit local governments from using public money to advocate for their interests, bulletproof glass for sheriffs’ patrol vehicles, and the need for regional cooperation and communication with the lieutenant governor’s office.
Much of the hour-long breakfast revolved around the lack of sufficient mental health services in the Panhandle and the strain that a lack of state hospital beds places on county jails and county budgets as a whole. The group spoke candidly about the staffing challenges jails face in housing inmates with mental health issues including those who are threatening suicide. While recognizing the work state representatives and senators have done to fund additional state hospital beds, the discussion noted that staffing shortages are extending the wait times for those beds. The group asked for a 500-bed state hospital to serve the Panhandle, an idea Lt. Gov. Patrick wanted to discuss more in-depth, potentially as an interim charge. He requested that continued dialogue on the matter include potential costs, location, community-matching funds and availability of partners in the business community to make such a facility possible.
Sheriffs also expressed their concern over bills banning or severely restricting TAC and similar associations from advocating before the Legislature. Lt. Gov. Patrick recognized the group’s concern and assured them that such legislation would target large lobbying firms that do not necessarily represent the views of the associations they are contracted to represent. Individual sheriffs expressed their reliance on the Sheriffs’ Association to allow them to stay informed about the Legislature while focusing on their duties in their home counties.
The lieutenant governor also laid out his priority to support a grant program providing funding to sheriffs’ offices for bulletproof windshields, citing the 87th Legislature’s establishment of the same fund for the Texas Department of Public Safety. He closed the conversation by asking for continued engagement from county officials on unfunded mandates, providing real costs of laws passed without state dollars attached and developing potential solutions to alleviate some of the fiscal pressures those laws impose.
For more information about this article, contact Austin McCarty.