© 2024 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Election 2023 guide: What San Antonio voters need to know about Prop A

Founder and executive director of ACT 4 SA Ananda Tomas announces the new San Antonio Justice Charter in front of community supporters on the steps of City Hall.
Josh Peck
Ananda Tomas, founder and executive director of ACT 4 SA, announced the new San Antonio Justice Charter in front of City Hall in October.

Voters will decide on Proposition A in this year’s municipal election. Prop A’s length and the heated debate around it may make it hard to sort fact from fiction when trying to understand it. This guide explains the policies, the debate, and potential legal challenges if it passes.

Read the exact language of Prop A as it was submitted to the city clerk here, or read the exact language on the ballot here.

Prop A is a city charter amendment that seeks to decriminalize abortion and low level marijuana possession, codify and expand cite-and-release, ban no-knock warrants and police chokeholds, and appoint a city justice director to oversee criminal justice-related policies.

Decriminalizing low-level marijuana possession

Prop A would prohibit officers from giving citations or making arrests for marijuana possession under four ounces, with two exceptions: if those citations or arrests are part of the investigation of a felony narcotics case designated as a high priority by SAPD leadership, or if those arrests or citations are part of the investigation of a violent felony, they may proceed.

It would also prohibit any city funds or personnel from being used to lab test substances believed to be marijuana. A 2019 state law legalized hemp, a substance so chemically similar to marijuana that lab tests are required to differentiate them.

Ananda Tomas speaks on a small outdoor stage in front of a multicolored sign that says San Antonio Justice Charter and depicts a hand holding the scales of justice.
Josh Peck
Ananda Tomas, executive director of ACT4SA, one of the organizations behind Prop A, speaks to attendees at the Prop A campaign kickoff event in March.

Decriminalizing abortion

Prop A would prohibit SAPD officers from investigating abortion-related crimes unless an individual is coerced into having an abortion or in cases involving conduct criminally negligent to the health of the pregnant individual.

Physicians can face up to life in prison and a $100,000 fine for performing an abortion in Texas. Prop A would also apply to any future laws criminalizing the procedure.

Under Prop A, SAPD would also be prohibited from collecting data about abortions or miscarriages unless the intent is to protect an individual’s right to an abortion.

Some opponents say policies decriminalizing abortion and low-level marijuana possession are unnecessary because District Attorney Joe Gonzales has said he won’t prosecute either and SAPD has never made an arrest for abortion-related crimes. But Prop A supporters say a different DA or police chief could change policy, and the Texas legislature is currently working on bills to rein in prosecutorial discretion around the issues of abortion- and marijuana-related crimes.

Josh Peck
San Antonio Police Officers' Association President Danny Diaz speaks against Prop A at the Protect SA campaign launch press conference earlier in April. He's flanked by fellow Prop A opponents, including District 10 Councilman John Courage (far left), District 4 Councilwoman Adriana Rocha-Garcia (second from right), and Bexar County Precinct 3 Commissioner Grant Moody (far right).

Ban on no-knock warrants

Prop A would prohibit SAPD officers from participating in “no-knock” search warrants, and officers would only be allowed to enter a premises unannounced if there was a “verified, imminent threat to human life.”

“No-knock” warrants are search warrants where officers do not announce their presence before entering a property to search it.

Prop A also sets out basic guidelines for how officers may execute search warrants generally, which includes being recognizable as police, wearing recently tested body cameras, and attempting to only execute warrants when “vulnerable persons” are not present.

“Vulnerable persons” are defined as children, people with disabilities, the elderly, or other “vulnerable individuals.”

The use of explosive devices, chemical weapons, and “military-grade firearms” during searches would also be prohibited under Prop A unless specifically necessary.

Finally, it calls for a post-search warrant report that would include anything seized, whether forcible entry was used, any destruction of property, and any injuries that occurred during the search.

Currently, SAPD does not use “no-knock” warrants but officers are allowed to breach a property without announcing themselves if they believe there is an imminent danger to life, which Prop A would also allow.

Ban on chokeholds and neck restraints

Prop A would prohibit SAPD officers from using a “chokehold or neck restraint” on anyone, referring to two different actions that restrict airflow or blood flow.

Current SAPD policy does not allow for chokeholds or neck restraints unless an officer believes using them is necessary to protect human life. Prop A has no such exception.

Ananda Tomas, the executive director of ACT4SA, speaks in front of City Hall on the day more than 38,000 Justice Charter petitions were submitted to the city clerk. She stands next to boxes of those petitions, and behind her are a few dozen supporters.
Josh Peck
Texas Public Radio
Ananda Tomas speaks in front of City Hall on the day more than 38,000 Justice Charter petitions were submitted to the city clerk in January.

Cite-and-release codification and expansion

Prop A would make permanent the current city cite-and-release policy that has been in place since 2019 with the addition of graffiti damage under $2,500 and a restriction on officer discretion to make arrests.

Current cite-and-release policy allows SAPD officers to cite rather than arrest for some misdemeanor crimes, including theft from businesses under $750 and driving with an invalid license, but allows officers to make arrests if they wish.

There’s debate over how Prop A’s version of cite-and-release would change officer discretion.

What’s clear is that it would allow officers to make arrests for cite-eligible crimes if an individual also allegedly commits a non-cite-eligible crime, has a warrant out for their arrest, demands to be taken to a magistrate, or has insufficient identification.

But opponents, such as District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez, said the language in the proposition eliminates all officer discretion for cite-eligible crimes, including family violence-related Class C simple assault, an offense defined as threatening bodily injury or causing provocative or offensive physical contact.

But Prop A’s organizers, including ACT4SA executive director Ananda Tomas, said officers have a separate authority to make arrests in any family violence cases, which Prop A would not interfere with.

It’s unclear how SAPD would interpret the language.

Justice director

Prop A would establish a city council-appointed position which would oversee all policies relating to criminal justice, meet with law enforcement and community stakeholders, publish annual justice impact statements, and submit non-binding justice impact statements to city council before any vote that affects criminal justice issues.

The justice director would not be allowed to have experience in law enforcement or financial investments in the law enforcement industry.

San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia (left) speaks about the settlement regarding a 2017 human smuggling incident. City Manager Erik Walsh stands center, and Deputy City Manager María Villagómez is to the right.
Joey Palacios
San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia (left).

Can Prop A be enforced?

City Attorney Andy Segovia has said every part of Prop A except for the justice director role conflicts with state law, and therefore won’t be enforced if Prop A passes.

But supporters disagree.

Mike Siegel, a former Austin city attorney and the general counsel of Ground Game Texas, one of the organizations behind Prop A, has said cities have the right to use their scarce resources as they see fit. That includes choosing where not to put resources — like choosing not to put them towards arresting for abortion-related or cite-eligible crimes.

Siegel has said his organization and Prop A supporters are prepared to keep fighting, despite opposition and potential legal challenges if it passes.

Early voting starts on Monday, April 24, and ends Tuesday, May 2. Election day is Saturday, May 6.

TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.