SAN ANTONIO – The mayor and all 10 city council positions will be on the May 6 ballot, but the real issue expected to draw San Antonio voters to the polls is Proposition A.
The sprawling proposed amendment to the city charter takes up 13 pages and covers numerous issues related to policing. Here are the basics.
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How we got here
A coalition of groups, led by Act 4 SA, gathered more than 35,000 petition signatures to get the so-called “San Antonio Justice Charter” onto the city’s May 6 ballot.
After the city clerk verified the petition drive had exceeded the 20,000 valid signatures required, the San Antonio City Council voted Feb. 16 to put it on the ballot as “Proposition A.” Even though it was a ministerial vote the council was required to make, three North Side councilmen purposefully left the dais to avoid having to vote for it.
An anti-abortion group tried to get the Texas Supreme Court to step in and force the proposed charter amendment to be split into multiple ballot propositions and to delay it until the November election. However, the court ruled on Mar. 17 that Prop A would appear as a single ballot measure in the May election.
One of the centerpieces of Proposition A is the mandate for San Antonio Police to cease citing or arresting people for misdemeanor amounts of marijuana possession - up to 4 ounces.
Except for cases related to violent felony investigations or the investigation of felony-level narcotics cases, police would essentially be prohibited from enforcing state marijuana possession laws.
Police officers would still be able to seize marijuana, but the city would be unable to use any funds or staff to test for THC (the psychoactive chemical in marijuana that is illegal in Texas), unless it is for a violent felony charge.
Prop A would also prohibit SAPD officers from using the smell of marijuana or hemp as probable cause for a search, except in those same circumstances.
Voters have overwhelmingly passed similar language in six other Texas cities to varying results.
As the other centerpiece of Prop A, the section on abortion would prohibit SAPD officers from investigating, making arrests or otherwise enforcing “any alleged criminal abortion.”
The only exceptions would be in instances where a pregnant person is coerced or forced, or in cases involving conduct that’s criminally negligent to the health of the pregnant person seeking care.
In language very similar to a non-binding resolution the San Antonio City Council passed in August 2022, the ballot initiative also forbids the city from gathering information on any abortions or passing such information onto other government agencies, apart from what is required in state or federal law.
San Antonio appears to be the first Texas city to attempt to decriminalize abortion through a ballot initiative.
Expanding and mandating cite and release
This portion of the ballot initiative has been one of the biggest sticking points for opponents.
Under state law, cite-and-release allows police to give someone a citation for certain non-violent misdemeanors rather than arresting them on-site. Eligible offenses include:
- Marijuana possession up to 4 ounces
- Synthetic marijuana possession up to 4 ounces
- Driving while license is invalid
- Contraband in a correctional facility
- Theft between $100 and $750
- Theft of service between $100 and $750
- Criminal mischief between $100 and $750
- Graffiti damage up to $2,500
That person’s resulting court case and its possible consequences - up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine for the most serious misdemeanor convictions - don’t necessarily disappear. However, the suspect doesn’t have to deal with the initial arrest or subsequently make bail to get out of jail.
SAPD already participates in a cite-and-release program with the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office and allows citations for all state-eligible offenses except graffiti.
An SAPD spokeswoman also said that while the state statue allows cite-and-release for thefts from individuals - such as swiping an unattended purse off a table - department policy restricts its cite-and-release program to thefts from businesses.
If passed, Prop A would expand SAPD’s cite-and-release program to include graffiti and thefts against individuals. Graffiti damage between $750 and $2,5000 still wouldn’t be eligible if it’s on a church, school, cemetery, public monument or a community center offering certain programs.
More notably, though, SAPD would also be required to cite people in almost all cases, whereas they currently have some discretion on whether to cite or arrest someone.
The citation mandate would also apply to all Class C misdemeanors except public intoxication. These are the lowest level crimes in state law - like traffic tickets and thefts under $100 - and are typically handled through citations anyway as they are only punishable by fines up to $500, not jail time.
The DA’s current program also includes additional elements meant to keep a citable offense off someone’s record.
Primarily, prosecutors will decide whether to reject a citation outright, put the person in a diversion track that could prevent any prosecution, or take the case through the courts like normal.
Because of the DA’s current policy to not prosecute marijuana possession cases under one ounce, the vast majority of pot citations are simply tossed out. Online statistics show the DA’s office generally favors the diversion track over a typical prosecution for most other offenses in the cite-and-release program.
Even with mandatory citations, it is not clear how Proposition A would affect how prosecutors handle the cases once they get them. The DA’s office has its own policy for who is eligible for its diversion program and has the ultimate say on how to prosecute the cases.
Justice policy and justice director
The entire proposed charter amendment would be named the “Justice Policy.” The first portion would declare that it is the city’s policy to: reduce the city’s contribution to mass incarceration, mitigate racially discriminatory law enforcement practices, and save “scarce public resources for greater public needs.”
The initiative would also create a “Justice Director” position in charge of “fulfilling the Justice Policy.” The position is a council appointment and could not be filled by anyone who previously worked in law enforcement.
The justice director appears to largely be an advisory position. They would have to provide reports ahead of key council decisions affecting the justice policy, like: the annual city budget, changes to the police union contract, and other council actions tied to law enforcement, public safety, or incarceration.
The reports, called “justice impact statements,” would examine how the proposed action meets the three goals of the justice policy, whether the action would hurt “historically over-policed communities,” whether it would raise police spending compared to other programs. It would also include possible alternatives that “would better advance the City’s justice policy.”
They would also be responsible for an annual report analyzing the “justice impact of each city department.
Ban on chokeholds and no-knock warrants
SAPD policy already forbids the use of both chokeholds and no-knock warrants, but the ballot initiative would embed bans within the city charter.
The section on no-knock warrants would also lay out additional restrictions for executing warrants, such as having to wait at least 30 seconds for someone to respond before trying to enter on a search warrant.
Texas state law also forbids the use of chokeholds unless it’s used to prevent serious bodily injury or death. Current SAPD policy also includes an exception permitting “any means or tactic” to protect themselves or others in those situations.
Supporters say Prop A’s intent is to create a chokehold ban without any exceptions.
Legality and enforceability
San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia has said that, with the exception of the Justice Director position, almost all of the ballot proposition goes against state law and is thereby unenforceable. So even if voters were to pass the charter amendment, Segovia says the city would not enforce those parts.
Feb 8 City Charter Petition Q and A by Cody King on Scribd
Supporters, however, say the city should follow the will of the voters. If Prop A passes, then they think the city should put it in place and fight any legal challenge.
Regardless of whether the city follows the letter of the proposed charter amendment, the restrictions within Prop A would not apply to other law enforcement agencies, such as the Texas Department of Safety.
For his part, Mayor Nirenberg has asked voters to oppose Prop A.
🗳 Where do you stand on Prop A? Vote in our poll 🗳
Read the exact language of the 13-page proposed charter amendment below:
WATCH: Prop A expected to draw more San Antonio voters to polls this year
How it will look on your ballot
Due to the numerous issues involved, the ballot language is nearly a page long on its own, which you can see below. A “YES” vote is in favor of amending the city charter, and a “NO” vote is in opposition. See the full ballot here.
“Shall the city charter be amended to include a justice policy under which the city of San Antonio will “use its available resources and authority to accomplish three goals of paramount importance: first, to reduce the city’s contribution to mass incarceration; second, to mitigate racially discriminatory law enforcement practices; and third, to save scarce public resources for greater public needs” and to “reduce unnecessary arrests and save scarce public resources through a comprehensive set of reforms”, including: ending enforcement of low-level marijuana possession by prohibiting police officers from issuing citations or make arrests for class a or class b misdemeanor possession of marijuana offenses, except in limited circumstances; prohibiting the enforcement of abortion crimes to promote the reproductive health, safety, and privacy of all city residents and stating that police officers shall not investigate, make arrests, or otherwise enforce any alleged criminal abortion, except in limited circumstances; banning no-knock warrants by stating that police officers shall not obtain a “no-knock” search warrant, nor shall they participate in serving a " noknock” search warrant with other law enforcement agencies and creating additional policies concerning the issuing of warrants; banning chokeholds with no exceptions; requiring police officers to issue citations instead of making arrests for low-level nonviolent crimes defined as possession of controlled substance less than 4 oz, penalty group 2-a (synthetic cannabinoids), class a or b misdemeanor under Texas health and safety code §§ 481.1161(b) (1) & (2), driving while license invalid, class a or b misdemeanor under Texas transportation code § 521.457, theft of property less than $750, class b misdemeanor under Texas penal code § 31.03(e) (2) (a), theft of service less than $750, class b misdemeanor under Texas penal code § 31.04(e) (2), contraband in a correctional facility, class b misdemeanor under Texas penal code § 38.114(c), graffiti, with damage less than $2500, class a or b misdemeanor under Texas penal code § 28.08(b) (2) & (3), criminal mischief with damage less than $750, class b misdemeanor under Texas penal code § 28.03(b) (2), and all class c misdemeanors, except class c public intoxication, which shall be addressed in accordance with Texas code of criminal procedure section 14.031; and requiring the San Antonio city council to appoint and provide resources to a justice director, with no previous experience in law enforcement, who will be charged with fulfilling the justice policy by providing a justice impact statement before any city council vote affecting the justice policy and meeting quarterly with community stakeholders to discuss the development of policies, procedures and practices related to the justice policy in open meetings?”
Here are the dates to keep in mind if you want to vote for or against Prop A. For more voter information, CLICK HERE.
Thursday, April 6 - Last day to register to vote
Monday, April 24 - First day of early voting
Tuesday, April 25 - Last day to apply for a ballot by mail (Application must be received, not postmarked by this date.)
Tuesday, May 2 - Last day of early voting
Saturday, May 6 - ELECTION DAY. Absentee/mail-in ballots must be postmarked or delivered by hand by 7 p.m. Ballots from overseas voters must be received by the fifth day after Election Day. Ballots from members of the armed forces must be received by the sixth day after election day