San Antonio charter amendment regarding abortion, marijuana, and police actions has enough signatures for the May 6 ballot

On May 6, 2023, San Antonio voters will decide on a charter amendment regarding abortion, marijuana, and police actions. City officials announced on Feb. 8 that the amendment has enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Last month, organizers for the amendment, including Act 4 SA and Ground Game Texas, submitted more than 37,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot. They needed at least 20,000 valid signatures from city voters for the measure to be certified for the ballot. City officials determined 20,973 signatures were valid.

“We will be saving money, keeping families together, stopping the unnecessary overcrowding of jails — but most of all, we will be saving lives through these policies,” said Ananda Tomas, executive director of ACT 4 SA.

If approved by voters, the charter amendment would:

  • end enforcement of low-level marijuana possession (Class A or B misdemeanor offenses)
  • prohibit San Antonio police officers from investigating or making arrests for abortions, as well as prohibit them from enforcing any state law that criminalizes abortion
  • ban no-knock warrants by law enforcement
  • ban chokeholds by law enforcement
  • use citations instead of arrests for low-level nonviolent crimes

The measure would also provide for the City Council to appoint a Justice Director. The role of Justice Director would include reducing incarceration and mitigating law enforcement practices. The Justice Director, who would report directly to the city council, cannot have worked in law enforcement or have significant financial investments in the law enforcement industry.

Act 4 SA, the organization working alongside Ground Game Texas in support of the amendment, said that the proposed charter amendment would make the city safer. “[The amendment] reduces burden on officers, prevents unnecessary arrests for nonviolent low level crimes, reduces re-offender rate, pushes police accountability and transparency, fights mass incarceration and deportation,” the organization said on its webpage.

The San Antonio Police Officers Association opposes the amendment. Danny Diaz, president of the union, said in a statement that no-knock warrants and chokeholds are already prohibited unless a life is at serious risk, and the proposed charter amendment is in direct conflict with state law regarding abortion and marijuana cases.

“The decriminalization of marijuana and abortion are handled at the state and federal level of government,” he said in a statement, “This is not a decision that can be implemented at a local level.”

Article 11, Section 5 of the Texas Constitution has a provision that says: “The adoption or amendment of charters is subject to such limitations as may be prescribed by the Legislature, and 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.”

Mike Siegel, the political director and co-founder of Ground Game Texas, told the San Antonio Report that the amendment is legal. He said, “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 added, “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.”

Election day in San Antonio is on May 6, 2023.