Public Notice: Masks Are Back!
Plus: a November vote on pot decriminalization?
Remember back in the heady days of early July, when it seemed like everything was just on the verge of getting back to normal again? Restaurants were booming, stores were open, people were hugging, music was playing, the cover of the Chronicle was "Live Is Live Again!" ... Ah, the good old days.
Well, we're still in the strange pandemic time warp, folks, where a year can go by while you're sitting on your couch, or the world can turn upside down overnight. Live was live last week, but by the time you read this, we'll probably be back into Stage 4 of COVID lockdown: masks when indoors, takeout dining, essential travel and shopping only, elbow bumps instead of handshakes ... not because it's a government mandate, but because it's the way we get to the other side – to the time, sadly, when everyone who's unvaccinated has gotten as sick as they're going to get, and either recovered or died.
Wow, that turned dark in a hurry. Read more of this week's pandemic news here.
So, this makes it a challenging time to be ramping up a petition drive, especially if you need "20,000 signatures by July 20" and you didn't announce the initiative until July 2. But there it is: the Austin Freedom Act, aiming to get a city pot decriminalization ordinance on the November ballot. The push is the first initiative from Ground Game Texas, a new Democratic organizing group founded by Julie Oliver and Mike Siegel, both two-time Dem congressional candidates in two of the Austin districts gerrymandered to be safely Republican. So, you know they're not averse to taking on uphill battles.
The proposed ordinance, creating Title 16 in the city code, to be titled "Austin Freedom Act of 2021," contains two chapters:
• Elimination of Marijuana Enforcement
• Ban on No-Knock Warrants
The first part, pot decriminalization, is the hook – the lead item in the press releases and fliers – but the second part may be the bigger deal to police reform advocates, and to the police themselves. The "no-knock warrant" has been a major target for police reformers nationwide.
The full text of this Chapter 16-2 is strikingly brief and categorical: "No Austin police officer may request, execute, or participate in the execution of any search warrant that does not require the officer to knock and announce their presence and wait at least 15 seconds prior to execution." And, "Any violation of this chapter may subject an Austin police officer to discipline as provided by the Texas Local Government Code, Chapter 143, or as provided in City policy." And in that brevity – you can't do it, and you'll be punished if you do – is a clear message: This tried-and-true police tactic, employed by the good guys in action films and cop shows for decades, is fundamentally wrong, and needs to be taken out of the playbook.
As such, it would form an interesting counterpoint on the November ballot to the SAN pro-police proposal, which would mandate more police officers, among other provisions (see more about that here). Whether it'll make it that far is anyone's guess, but if you want to lend your support, you can sign the petition and get more info about GGT at groundgametexas.org/austin.