North Side councilmen leave chambers rather than put marijuana, abortion onto May 6 ballot

SAN ANTONIO – The so-called San Antonio Justice Charter is now officially Proposition A on the city’s May 6 ballot, putting attempts to decriminalize marijuana and abortion in front of San Antonio voters.

The San Antonio City Council voted 7-0 to order the election as part of a host of normal city business items Thursday morning. Because the proposed charter amendment was the result of a successful petition, the city’s legal team said the city council had no choice but to put it on the ballot.

Even so, three North Side councilmen made sure to leave council chambers rather than help pass it: Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), Councilman John Courage (D9), and Councilman Clayton Perry (D10).

Manny Pelaez, John Courage, and Clayton Perry all left council chambers before the vote to put the SA Justice Charter onto the May 6 ballot (KSAT)

The #SAJusticeCharter is now on the ballot, which req’d a SA city council vote. The city attorney repeatedly said the council HAD to place it on there, and it was not a vote on the merits.

However, 3 Northside councilmen made sure to leave the dais before the vote. @ksatnews

— Garrett Brnger (@BrngerReports)

February 16, 2023

The controversial and expansive Prop A includes numerous proposed changes to the city charter regarding policing. Forbidding police from arresting people for criminal abortions or misdemeanor pot possession in most cases have been the central tenets.

However, it also includes mandating an expanded version of cite-and-release for other misdemeanor crimes, setting existing bans on no-knock warrants and choke holds in stone, and creating a new “justice director” position.

San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia has said most of the proposals in Prop A are not enforceable because they go against state law. But he also stated repeatedly the city council had a legal obligation under state law to put the initiative on the ballot and could not consider its merits.

“The city council has no discretion,” Segovia said. “The enforceability of the petition does not relieve you of your legal obligation to put the petition on the ballot because the adequate number of signatures were achieved.”

There was no public debate among city council members on the issue, though a parade of supporters and opponents praised and slammed the initiative during the public comment period.

Many opponents urged council members not put the initiative on the ballot, while supporters asked that the lengthy ballot language be reverted to the simpler form the activists had submitted.

Pelaez and Perry both told KSAT in statements after the meeting that the proposed amendment went against state and federal law. Pelaez went as far as calling the Justice Charter a “very bad idea” that “isn’t just absurd. It’s illegal.”

.@district10perry indicated it was because the charter amendments (which the city attorney has said 5 of 6 are unenforceable) “directly conflicts with state and federal law”

— Garrett Brnger (@BrngerReports)

February 16, 2023

Just received a statement from @District8Manny through his campaign. It has similar reasoning to Perry, though he also calls the initiative “absurd,” “illegal,” and “a very bad idea.”

— Garrett Brnger (@BrngerReports)

February 16, 2023

Courage, meanwhile, said he was not advocating for or against the initiative. However, he said he felt the ballot language didn’t adequately explain the proposals and their implications.

“I believe that is an injustice to the voters, doesn’t fully disclose the effects of the proposal and would limit their understanding of the consequences of their vote,” Courage wrote in a text message.

.@couragefor9 / @JohnCourageD9 indicated that it was because he felt the ordinance didn’t contain a comprehensive take on what is actually IN the proposed amendment (it’s a lot), which he thinks is “an injustice to the voters”

— Garrett Brnger (@BrngerReports)

February 16, 2023

The three councilmen were marked as “absent” on the final 7-0 vote tally. The District 7 council seat is still vacant after Ana Sandoval’s resignation in January and was not included in the count.

The Justice Charter was put forward by a coalition of activist groups led by Act 4 SA and Ground Game Texas, which gathered roughly 38,000 signatures to put it in front of voters. The City Clerk’s office certified nearly 21,000 of the signatures, which surpassed the 20,000 signature threshold.

Executive Director Ananda Tomas called the trio’s deliberate absence “very disappointing.”

“We got enough signatures to put this on the ballot. Your only job is ministerial to say, ‘yes, it should be on the ballot.’ And they didn’t do that today. They didn’t do their job,” Tomas said.

Even with the city council action, there are still lingering legal questions of how the Justice Charter could actually end up appearing before voters.

The anti-abortion group, Texas Alliance for Life, has asked the Supreme Court of Texas to force the city to split the ballot initiative into several measures, instead of just one.

The court has not ruled yet, but on Thursday it ordered both sides to to provide a status report by Feb. 20 on the city council’s actions.