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Texas lawmakers are considering legislation that would have a big impact on the state's homeless population.

Companion bills in the state House and Senate would ban homeless encampments statewide. They would make camping anywhere in public other than approved spaces a Class C misdemeanor with a fine up to $500.

Supporters say it's a quality-of-life issue for the majority and that homeless camps bring health and safety issues to residential and commercial neighborhoods.

Critics say the proposals essentially criminalize homelessness for many who can't find housing or even room in a shelter. And they note the homeless are least likely to be able to pay fines, sending them further down a spiral of debt and possibly jail time for failure to pay.

The legislation would also deny state money to cities and towns that fail to enforce the anti-camping law.

Like most cities in the state, we have homeless encampments right here in Texarkana. And, like most cities, we don't have the money or public housing for those who live in the camps.

What we want to know is what the state plans to do about that? Right now, it looks like this legislation is basically a way for the state to pass the burden to the cities and towns of Texas.

Just making a problem into a crime is not a solution. And until the Legislature can come up with some sort of plan to address homelessness overall, it has no business trying to pass this sort of legislation.

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