Austin successfully decriminalized marijuana last year. Town additionally successfully banned no-knock warrants, the controversial police tactic that led to the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Atatiana Jefferson.

However these insurance policies are roughly tips; they’re not formally enshrined within the metropolis’s constitution.

A bunch of metropolis leaders, prison justice advocates and political operatives needs to alter that, and has begun a petition drive to get these measures on the poll in November.

At an occasion Wednesday morning, Mike Siegel, political director for the progressive voting rights nonprofit Floor Recreation Texas, mentioned the trouble goals each to attract voters to the polls and to handle disparities in prison justice and policing.

“What we’re attempting to do is advance the reason for prison justice reform, shifting away from biased police practices … that disproportionately goal Black and Latino communities,” Siegel mentioned, “and we’re additionally attempting to get voters excited to take part in native politics.”

Siegel was joined by fellow former Democratic congressional candidate and Floor Recreation co-founder Julie Oliver and Austin Metropolis Council members Vanessa Fuentes and Greg Casar.

Casar pushed for the Council-directed decriminalization of pot and the no-knock warrant ban, each of which have been met with pushback from the Austin Police Division, which mentioned it should comply with state legislation, not Metropolis Council decree. The poll proposition, if handed, would require compliance on the a part of APD, as it will put each the ban on no-knock warrants and the mandate to halt marijuana arrests within the metropolis’s constitution.

Regardless of some movement on legalizing pot on the state stage, it’s nonetheless a bootleg substance in Texas. Requested whether or not the decriminalization effort would run afoul of state legislation, Casar mentioned he didn’t consider it will. He mentioned cities can amend their very own charters and Austin voters ought to have the ability to prioritize what points the town ought to deal with.

“We’ve far more critical points to take care of. We need to deal with affordability. We need to deal with civil rights. We need to deal with security,” he mentioned, in entrance of the Willie Nelson statue outdoors the ACL Dwell theater downtown. “And beneath state legislation, the voters have the authority to say, let’s not spend thousands and thousands of {dollars} within the metropolis of Willie Nelson to be chasing folks round for pot.”

The push is the most recent instance of a now widespread tactic utilizing the ability of the petition to tweak, reinstate or throw out divisive metropolis insurance policies in Austin. To take action, residents should first get 20,000 legitimate signatures from Austin residents on a petition. These signatures are then submitted to the town clerk for verification. In the event that they’re legitimate, the measure is placed on a citywide poll.

The follow has been round for decades, and since 2016, when ride-hailing regulations have been put to Austin voters by way of petition-backed referendum, they’ve grow to be more and more widespread. The latest instance of the tactic’s success is Proposition B, the petition that reinstated Austin’s ban on public encampments and sure habits associated to homelessness.

The identical GOP-backed group which supported that measure has put forth another petition that, if handed, would mandate APD keep sure staffing ranges, in response to the town’s choice final 12 months to chop and reallocate the division’s finances. That call attracted response from the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature this 12 months, and it’s probably this effort might draw the ire of Gov. Greg Abbott, as nicely.

Requested if she believed the trouble can be a lightning rod for Abbott or different GOP detractors, Kathy Mitchell, coverage coordinator for the prison justice advocacy group Simply Liberty, mentioned the difficulty of legalizing marijuana isn’t like police funding. It’s not a one-party problem, and it has help from the majority of Texas voters.

“I don’t consider that it will be intelligent or helpful for the Republican management to make this into a giant factor when many, many jurisdictions wish to do that, as nicely,” she mentioned. “When folks see it working right here, they might need to have it work some place else.”

Floor Recreation says, up to now, it’s gathered greater than 3,000 signatures forward of the cutoff for signatures on the finish of July.

This story was produced as a part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made attainable by donations from the neighborhood. Although our reporting covers donors once in a while, we’re cautious to maintain enterprise and editorial efforts separate whereas sustaining transparency. An entire checklist of donors is out there here, and our code of ethics is defined here.

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