Jan 10, 2023 - Politics

Abortion, marijuana reform could be on S.A. ballot

Illustration of a pencil filling in a ballot with the checkbox in the shape of the state of Texas.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

San Antonio voters will likely have a say in deciding whether the city should decriminalize abortion and low-level marijuana possession and make other police reforms permanent.

Driving the news: Organizers with the nonprofit Act4SA and other groups gathered more than 37,000 signatures in support of placing a city charter amendment on the May 6 ballot, Ananda Tomas, executive director of Act4SA, tells Axios.

  • They need 20,000 verified signatures to get on the ballot. Organizers aimed for 35,000 signatures to have a buffer, since some signers will inevitably be rejected.
  • Tomas and others plan to deliver the signatures to the city clerk today.

Why it matters: Tomas said San Antonio would be the first city in Texas to vote on decriminalizing abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year, ending federal abortion protections. Almost all abortions are prohibited in Texas.

Details: The charter amendment would:

  • Prevent officers from investigating or making arrests for abortions.
  • Halt citations and arrests for Class A or Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
  • Ban police chokeholds and no-knock warrants.
  • Expand cite-and-release policy to direct officers to cite, not arrest, people for certain nonviolent misdemeanor offenses, including theft.

Yes, but: It's unclear whether local policies on abortion and marijuana would trump state law, though the courts could ultimately decide.

State of play: Some of the proposed policies, such as the ban on police chokeholds and no-knock warrants, are already on the books. Last summer, the City Council also directed police not to use public resources to investigate abortions.

  • Enshrining such measures in the city charter would make them permanent so that future elected officials can't overturn them so easily, Tomas said.

What they're saying: "There were points in this campaign where we weren't sure we were gonna make it," Tomas tells Axios. "So it's one, a huge sense of relief, but also accomplishment."

The other side: The police union is opposed to the charter amendment on grounds it would make it harder to keep the community safe.

  • It isn't the role of the city to determine laws related to marijuana and abortion, Danny Diaz, president of the San Antonio Police Officers' Association, tells Axios.
  • "It's just chipping away at what they've been wanting to do since Prop B," Diaz said. "It's dictating what officers can and cannot do."

Flashback: Act4SA is composed of former volunteers behind the Proposition B effort in the May 2021 election, which would have stripped the police union of its right to collectively bargain with the city. It failed only narrowly.

  • Tomas was surprised to find the push for this ballot initiative more difficult. Organizers only raised about a third of the budget this time around compared to two years ago, Tomas said.

What's next: The city clerk's office has until Feb. 8 to verify people who signed the petition live in city limits and are registered to vote, city spokesperson Donald Sparks tells Axios.

  • That provides enough notice for the City Council to vote on Feb. 16 to call for the May 6 election.

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