The people of the city reserve the power of direct legislation by initiative, and in the exercise of such power may propose any ordinance, not in conflict with this Charter, the state constitution, or the state laws except an ordinance appropriating money or authorizing the levy of taxes. Any initiated ordinance may be submitted to the council by a petition signed by qualified voters of the city equal in number to the number of signatures required by state law to initiate an amendment to this Charter.
This section deals with the people’s power of initiative, which means that a petition can be submitted accompanying a proposed ordinance that the petitioners want passed.
Such proposed ordinances can be about any subject matter (except appropriation of money or authorization of the levy of taxes) that does not conflict with the city charter, Texas Constitution, or state law.
An initiated ordinance may be submitted to council via a petition “signed by qualified voters of the city equal in number to the number of signatures required by state law to initiate an amendment to this Charter.”
The number of valid signatures required by state law is as follows: “The governing body shall submit a proposed [ordinance] to the voters for their approval at an election if the submission is supported by a petition signed by a number of qualified voters of the municipality equal to at least five percent of the number of qualified voters of the municipality or 20,000, whichever number is the smaller.” [See Texas Local Government Code, §9.004(a)]
Because of Austin’s large population, the 20,000 number is always the smaller, so that number is what is required for valid signatures on a petition.
City Charter, Article IV, Section 3 deals with validation of initiative petitions by the city clerk. It requires the city clerk to follow the statutory requirements found in Texas Election Code, §277.002:
Sec. 277.002. VALIDITY OF PETITION SIGNATURES.
(a) For a petition signature to be valid, a petition must:
(1) contain in addition to the signature:
(A) the signer's printed name;
(B) the signer's:
(i) date of birth; or
(ii) voter registration number and, if the territory from which signatures must be obtained is situated in more than one county, the county of registration;
(C) the signer's residence address; and
(D) the date of signing; and
(2) comply with any other applicable requirements prescribed by law.
(b) The signature is the only information that is required to appear on the petition in the signer's own handwriting.
(c) The use of ditto marks or abbreviations does not invalidate a signature if the required information is reasonably ascertainable.
(d) The omission of the state from the signer's residence address does not invalidate a signature unless the political subdivision from which the signature is obtained is situated in more than one state. The omission of the zip code from the address does not invalidate a signature.
(e) A petition signature is invalid if the signer signed the petition earlier than the 180th day before the date the petition is filed.
Texas Election Code, Chapter 277 also gives requirements for withdrawal of signatures, information on computing numbers of signatures and verifying signatures by statistical sample, and says that initiative petitions may not be supplemented, modified, or amended on or after the date they are filed with the city clerk. [See Texas Election Code, §277.0022 et seq.]
City Charter, Article IV, §4 deals with what occurs after the city clerk certifies to the council that an initiative petition is sufficient. Council shall either (1) pass the ordinance exactly as written within 10 days, or (2) order an election on the initiated ordinance exactly as written, with the election to be held on the next statutorily-allowable election date.
If the initiated ordinance receives a majority of votes cast at the election, it “shall thereupon be effective as an ordinance of the city.”
If defeated, no ordinance on the same subject can be initiated again within 2 years from the date of the election. Initiative ordinances elections cannot be held more frequently than once each 6 months.
For more information on petition filing processes, see: