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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Citizens Win Petition Lawsuit Against Austin City Officials

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AUSTIN — Citizens in Texas’ capital city are now more empowered when they petition their local elected officials.

On Wednesday, the Texas Supreme Court unanimously rebuked the Democrat-run Austin City Council for attempting to distort a citizen-proposed city law on the November election ballot.

The issue traces back to last year when the city council defunded the Austin Police Department by up to $150 million (one-third of their budget), leaving the department in a “dire situation” and sparking record violent crime and homicides on the streets.

In response, citizen group Save Austin Now organized a petition campaign to override the council’s decision, proposing to restore adequate officer staffing and other reforms to APD. Their proposed public safety law garnered more than 25,000 signatures and is now placed on the ballot for a citywide vote in the November election.

But when the city council wrote the text for that ballot question last month, Save Austin Now sued them and claimed they illegally word-smithed the language to manipulate voters against the proposal. Specifically, SAN said the city council is not allowed by city charter to concoct their own wording for a citizen-proposed law campaign, and they must use the text (called the “caption”) from the petition.

The Texas Supreme Court unanimously agreed.

In the Court’s opinion, authored by Justice Rebeca Huddle, they clarified that the city was allowed by applicable law to add a cost estimate to the ballot question in this particular case; however, the city did not have authority to write whatever they wanted.

“The City did not have carte blanche to rewrite the petitioned caption wholesale, and it abused its discretion by doing so,” Huddle wrote.

“Given the Austin City Charter’s express requirement that the caption of a petition-initiated ordinance be placed before the voters, the City has no

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