A proposed City Charter amendment that seeks to ban police from using no-knock warrants and chokeholds, as well as expand the city’s cite-and-release policy for low-level, nonviolent crimes, has enough certified signatures supporting it to appear on the ballot in San Antonio’s May municipal election.

However, City Attorney Andy Segovia told reporters Wednesday the most of the provisions are inconsistent with state law and could not be enforced if even if they’re approved by voters.

Segovia said that if the amendment is approved, the city would not be able to make any other changes to its charter until the November 2025 election, thanks to a state law restricting the frequency of charter amendments. Mayor Ron Nirenberg had been assembling a charter review committee to explore other potential changes in the coming year.

As written the proposal, called the Justice Charter by its proponents, would ostensibly eliminate police enforcement of certain levels of marijuana possession, eliminate police enforcement of abortion-related crimes. It would also ostensibly ban the use of chokeholds by police, ban the use of no-knock warrants, create additional requirements to obtain a search warrant, and remove the officers’ discretion in whether to issue a citation or arrest for some low-level crimes.

With the exception of one provision calling for the creation of a city justice director, Segovia said the proposal’s elements “are all inconsistent with state law.”

“Therefore, even if the public does adopt the charter amendments, the charter amendments as written will not be enforceable,” he said.

The progressive group ACT 4 SA submitted 38,000 petition signatures supporting the Justice Charter to the city clerk last month.

Segovia said Wednesday that enough signatures had been verified for it to be included on the May 6 ballot, and City Council would authorize the move next week, as it is required to do.

“The simple truth is that these policies will save lives by limiting unnecessary interactions with police that can lead to serious injury or even death – as we have seen recently with the shooting of Erik Cantu and death of Tyre Nichols,” ACT 4 SA Executive Director Ananda Tomas said in a statement Wednesday evening. 

“By passing this we will create a safer, more just San Antonio for all that can be a beacon of light for other cities across Texas and even across the nation,” she said.

Local Republicans are already organizing to oppose the Justice Charter in the May election. Meanwhile, the legality of the proposal itself is under scrutiny from attorneys on the right.

Rob Henneke, executive director and general counsel at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), said the Justice Charter likely violates the state’s single subject statutory rule, which restricts ballot amendments to a single policy topic. In recent years TPPF successfully sued Texas cities to stop them from implementing paid sick leave requirements and plastic bag bans through city ordinances.

Ballot proposals are trickier to navigate, though, and less common because of the cost of gathering signatures, Henneke said.

“It’s not just something that somebody with a clipboard goes out and gets 38,000 signatures,” he said.

Segovia said Wednesday he believed the city wouldn’t be subject to a lawsuit if it doesn’t seek to enforce the charter amendment if it passes.

“If our position is we’re not going to enforce those things that are inconsistent with state law, I don’t see the state thing coming after us,” he said.

Avatar photo

Andrea Drusch

Andrea Drusch writes about local government for the San Antonio Report. She's covered politics in Washington, D.C., and Texas for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, National Journal and Politico.