Something like this was surely inevitable.
Bell County commissioners, along with the district attorney, are determined to settle the question of whether Killeen’s Proposition A is lawful, making the governing body the first in Texas to sue one of its own cities over decriminalization of misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
“Basically, the discussion was going on in consideration of the ordinance that had been passed by the City Council of Killeen and the actions of the result of that particular vote,” Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza told the Herald. “What you saw (on Thursday) was really the beginning of getting this particular question before a court: What is the effect of a local municipal ordinance when it comes into conflict with state law?”
In a unanimous vote on Thursday, Bell County commissioners agreed to file a lawsuit against Killeen over the city’s adoption of Proposition A, the ballot measure that was approved by voters in November to decriminalize marijuana in Killeen.
“The county commissioners voted to direct the county attorney and (me) to get involved in the beginning to get that question answered,” Garza said. “That is the only way to get it into court to begin a legal action.”
None of the other Texas cities where decriminalization initiatives have been approved — Elgin, Denton, San Marcos and Austin — has faced litigation. But in San Marcos, Hays County District Attorney Wes Mau has asked for the Texas attorney general’s opinion on that city’s decriminalization ordinance.
“The good news is the vast majority of the law has actually been researched not only by me and the county attorney, (but) the city attorney in Harker Heights had the opportunity to review the matter legally and so has the city attorney in Killeen,” Garza said.
Opponents of Prop A, including Garza, say it conflicts with state law — where low amounts marijuana is still a misdemeanor — and therefore should not be allowed in individual cities.
It is not clear when the lawsuit will be filed.
“We will plan accordingly,” Garza said.
He and County Attorney Jim Nichols met with Commissioners Bobby Whitson, John Driver, Bill Schumann and Russell Schneider in executive session for an hour on Thursday. County Judge David Blackburn joined the meeting remotely, and Schumann chaired the meeting.
After 10 people spoke and each commissioner offered their opinions on Proposition A, they voted 5-0 on an “authorization to litigate.”
“The Bell County attorney is authorized to file suit against the city of Killeen and its agents to enforce Texas Local Government Code section 370.003 by seeking declaratory relief in district court against the city of Killeen’s actions as unconstitutional; and seeking injunctive relief in district court against the city of Killeen from enforcing either the special order or ordinance; and seeking injunctive relief against the city of Killeen from punishing police officers for enforcing marijuana laws under the Health and Safety Code, Penal Code, and Code of Criminal Procedure,” according to the authorization.
The decision allows Nichols to seek declaratory relief “authorizing peace officers licensed by the state of Texas to fully enforce marijuana laws as it is their duty to prevent and suppress crime under Section 2.13 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.”
See here, here, and here for some background. Activists in Harker Heights, which is also in Bell County, are planning to force another vote on the issue, though that may wind up being moot, depending on how this goes. I don’t know how this will play out in the courts – I’m not optimistic for the Ground Game Texas folks, I’ll say that much – but even a favorable ruling may not help, as I would expect the Lege to weigh in as well, on the side of the opponents. I believe Ground Game Texas is on the right side of the issue and as noted I’d vote for one of their propositions if it were before me, but the power imbalance is what it is, and there’s not a clear way around it. You may have heard me say something like this in the past, but we’re going to have to change our state government if we want things like this to go differently in the future. Not much else to it, I’m afraid. The Current has more.