Progressive groups celebrated on the steps of City Hall Tuesday afternoon before delivering the boxes of signed petitions needed to get a measure in front of voters that would decriminalize both cannabis possession and abortion.
Ananda Tomas, executive director of police reform group ACT 4 SA, told reporters that her group and its allies collected 38,200 signatures in favor of the San Antonio Justice Charter. That’s well above the roughly 20,000 required to put it on the ballot for May’s citywide election.
If passed, the charter also would codify the ban the San Antonio Police Department’s current leadership has placed on police chokeholds and no-knock warrants.
“I’ve been frustrated working within the system and working in City Hall to try to get things like this done,” District 2 City Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez told charter supporters. “I think this is a demonstration that when the people will it, it will happen.”
Although the petition garnered support from McKee-Rodriguez and an array of progressive groups from around the state, it’s likely to face stiff resistance from others. Danny Diaz, head of San Antonio’s powerful police union, said his organization will work to defeat the measure, which he said ties officers’ hands.
The City Clerk’s office has 20 business days, until Feb. 8, to verify the signatures.
“We’re ready,” City Clerk Debbie Racca-Sittre said inside City Hall as she and a colleague sealed and time stamped four boxes filled with more than 5,000 pages of petition signatures.
City Council will call for the election, which will include council district seats and other local elections, during its Feb. 16 meeting.
Voters will likely see just one item on the May 6 ballot to make the batch of changes to the City’s Charter — but city officials could split them up into separate votes, Tomas said. “The intent is for it to be one single proposition. I think that that’s still going to be a conversation with City Council.”
The charter changes would essentially direct the police department not to spend resources pursuing most abortion and low-level marijuana possession cases.
A provision in the Texas Constitution states that “no charter or any ordinance passed under said charter shall contain any provision inconsistent with the Constitution of the State, or of the general laws enacted by the Legislature of this State.”
Whether the charter rules, if approved, violate that provision may ultimately be left up to legal challenges — but “this is entirely legal,” Mike Siegel, political director and co-founder of Ground Game Texas, told the San Antonio Report.
“Every day, police departments decide what they’re going to enforce and what they’re not going to enforce, and this represents the people of San Antonio saying: these are not our priorities for our scarce public dollars,” Siegel said. “The roots of the Texas Constitution are in local self control [and] self determination. So that’s why we have charter cities that have this authority to adopt their own charters and decide their own laws.”
It will be up to opponents of the charter changes to decide whether they want to challenge it, he said.
I would expect this to pass, as similar referenda has done in other cities. Whether it will get a similarly chilly reception from City Council or Commissioners Court remains to be seen. Unlike some other counties, the Bexar County District Attorney is on board with the idea, as noted in this Texas Public Radio story, so they have that going for them. On the other hand, the Lege is out there as well, with a giant hammer to wield against cities and counties that do things the Republicans don’t like. Sometimes I don’t necessarily mind Houston being a bit behind the activism curve. If six months or a year from now this ordinance is in place and being complied with, I’ll be delighted and looking to our city to follow suit. If not, I’ll be disappointed but not surprised. Stay tuned.