In a year marked by protests against police brutality and calls for reform in law enforcement agencies, San Antonio City Council put police accountability and transparency at the top of their legislative priorities for the next Texas Legislature.
City Council voted unanimously Thursday to approve its 2021 legislative agenda. However, facing a projected $4.6 billion revenue shortfall, according to the State Comptroller’s office, any proposals requiring a substantial budgetary investment are likely to face challenges.
Under police-related proposals, the agenda called for allowing the release of all police disciplinary records instead of only the ones that result in suspension, giving the police chief the ability to discipline officers within 180 days of finding wrongdoing and not just from the date of the actual act, limiting an arbitrator’s ability to reduce discipline, and encouraging new police officers to live in the cities they work in.
Most of those proposed changes could be handled by updating the collective bargaining agreement, often referred to as a CBA, with the San Antonio Police Department’s union but not all, City Attorney Andy Segovia said.
“To be able to disclose matters that are less than suspensions, that would require a state law change,” Segovia told council members at a Nov. 4 meeting. “But the others could be handled through a CBA. So it doesn’t preclude us from trying to do that to a CBA.”
Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) thanked the Intergovernmental Relations team for putting together the legislative agenda Thursday, pointing to Deputy City Manager Maria Villagomez and Government and Public Affairs Director Jeff Coyle’s conversations with the police union over the City’s priorities.
“They’ve had a healthy discussion regarding the legislative agenda … I have every reason to believe we’re going to have a good round of negotiations leading up to our next contract [with the police union],” Pelaez said.
The current police union contract expires Sept. 30, 2021.
The legislative agenda also states that the City of San Antonio supports Medicaid expansion in Texas, aligning with the County’s legislative agenda passed on Tuesday With a Republican-controlled state House and Senate, however, Medicaid expansion remains unlikely in Texas.
“I think that’s critically important if we’ve learned our lessons through this public health crisis,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said of calling for Medicaid expansion. “So I’m glad to see that and note that the City and the County will be working together to make our voices heard on that subject.”
The City’s legislative agenda puts a state broadband plan as a proposal to close the digital divide, emphasizes local control, and champions transportation programs and pedestrian safety. It also supports efforts to prevent domestic violence, help the economy recover in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, fund education, and increase the affordable housing supply, among many other issues.
Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) thanked City staff for stressing the need for a fair redistricting process on the legislative agenda at a Nov. 4 meeting. With the decennial census complete, the Texas Legislature will take up redistricting in the 2021 session, which starts in January.
“Just to reiterate that the redistricting … is to be a fair accounting, but that it does take into racial and ethnic representation,” Sandoval said. “And I think we do need to call it out because representation does matter.”