City Council approves historic First Amendment assembly and procession policy

March 7, 2018

SAN ANTONIO (March 1, 2018) — Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Councilman Roberto Treviño lauded City Council’s unanimous approval of an ordinance establishing new First Amendment assembly and procession procedures, crafted with extensive community input, particularly from the San Antonio Free Speech Coalition.


Joleen Garcia of the San Antonio Free Speech Coalition, said, "We are very pleased with the ordinance.  Coalition members from across the city took a great deal of time to educate and lobby their council member.   As a result, we won the great majority of issues and concerns that we raised. Now - more than ever - it is important that we use our free speech rights here in San Antonio."


“City Hall belongs to the public, and everyone has a seat at the table,” Mayor Nirenberg said. “This ordinance will make it easier and more affordable for San Antonians to make their voices heard and is a perfect example of how the community and the city can come together.”


Mayor Nirenberg praised District 1 Councilman Treviño’s dedicated efforts on the issue and noted that his Council Consideration Request, which called for a review of the City’s Parade Ordinance, paved the way for real community input and dialogue.


Councilman Treviño said, “The passage of the changes to our First Amendment speech and assembly policy signifies the end of placing a price tag on free speech in San Antonio. I am grateful to Joleen Garcia and the members of the San Antonio Free Speech Coalition for their participation in several work sessions with my office and City staff. Thank you to my past and present council colleagues who provided their support on this instrumental policy.”


Former City Councilman Mario Salas, District 2 said, "As an advocate for civil rights I think this in an important step toward protecting the First Amendment and limiting the power of the police to control free speech. This council is far better than the last one."   Community activist, TC Calvert, who spoke to the SA Free Speech Coalition said, "San Antonio's decision is one that the nation is going to look at as a model decision.  Simply put you can't put a tax on free speech!   You can't tax free speech!   We are glad the City Council had the willpower and the courage to remove the outrageous tax on free speech.  There is still much work to do with building an improved relationship between the community and the police."


The new ordinance evolved after confusion arose around protests at the San Antonio International Airport last February in response to President Donald Trump’s travel ban. The San Antonio Free Speech Coalition organized a community feedback and work session that included community members, Councilmember Treviño, the City Manager’s Office, the City Attorney and SAPD.


“The stakeholder input from all sides has been vital in crafting amendments which remove permitting costs for free speech activities like protests while providing more opportunities for engagement between citizens and their local government. The current political and social climate has elicited strong responses across America. I am proud that the policy this council put forth today gives all parts of our community the opportunity to exercise their First Amendment right,” Councilman Treviño said.


This collaboration culminated in the following proposed changes to the City’s Parade ordinance: 


1.    permit and traffic safety costs for First Amendment processions are removed; 


2.    created a permitting official and a procession and public assembly permit office within the Center City Development and Operations Department;  


3.    explicit protection for spontaneous assemblies is provided;  


4.    applicants can now submit their applications for a procession 15 days before an event, as opposed to 30 days;  


5.    identifies free speech zones in the airport. 


Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales said months prior to the ordinance approval, “Streets and public spaces should be available for community members to exercise their first amendment right. Charging people to pay fees to assemble is an impediment to their right to free speech, especially when they do not have the means to pay."




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