San Antonio’s Office of the City Clerk received more than 38,000 signatures Tuesday in support of a local petition to put a range of policing issues on the May ballot.

If the clerk verifies that at least 20,000 of those signatures belong to registered voters in San Antonio, voters will have the opportunity to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession, end enforcement of abortion laws, establish a city “justice director” position, ban police from using no-knock warrants and chokeholds and expand the city’s cite-and-release policy for low-level, nonviolent crimes.

“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, a local police reform advocacy group that launched the petition in October.

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.”

Local police reform advocacy group ACT 4 SA has been working on the so-called Justice Charter with Ground Game Texas, which pushes for progressive legislation in communities across the state, as well as other local groups including Texas Organizing Project, Move Texas and local chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

San Antonio’s police union has criticized the Justice Charter as an overreach into police policies as well as violations of state and federal law. Union President Danny Diaz has pointed out that no-knock warrants and chokeholds are already prohibited unless a life is at serious risk.

The proposed charter changes are in direct conflict with state law, which sets enforcement policies for marijuana and abortion cases, Diaz said.

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.

Earlier this year, Austin’s marijuana decriminalization measure and no-knock warrant ban were approved by 85% of that city’s voters.

Justice Charter organizers in San Antonio will be taking a couple of days off, Tomas said, but “we’re gonna hit the streets really hard after this.”

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org