San Antonio City Council appears to be sharply divided on the question of whether the City's Youth Curfew law, which was approved in 2015, should be renewed or should be allowed to expire, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
The curfew requires, with several exceptions, that young people under the age of 17 be off the streets during regular school hours, and between 11PM and 5AM Sunday through Saturday.
Exceptions include teenagers who are working, have already graduated from high school, or are out for reasons of 'school, government, or religious activity.'
Violators receive a Class C misdemeanor citation.
The curfew has a three year removal clause, and Morgan Craven with the activist group Texas Appleseed says now is the time to let it expire, pointing out that the State in 2015 decriminalized truancy. She says slapping a 16 year old who happens to be on the streets late at night, and who is not committing any crime or causing any annoyance, with a criminal record for life is not the best course of action.
"The fines and fees that are attached to Class C misdemeanors, the possibility of having a criminal record and can impact their ability to get jobs, apply for college, or enlist in the military," she said.
Craven's concerns were echoed by Councilman Cruz Shaw.
"At the end of the day, we are criminalizing kids for, we don't know why they are outside of their house," Shaw said.
Many speakers pointed out that in cases of violence, dysfunction, or criminal activity being carried out by adults inside their home, the teenagers who seek to get away from that should not be the ones punished.
But north side Councilman John Courage, who is a former teacher, said now more than ever, with the dangers that lurk in the streets after dark, the City must embrace teenagers and make sure they are protected, and the best way to do that is to make sure they are not on the streets.
"I think it is an obligation for the city to look out for these young people, who, because they are young and immature, they often don't understand all the repurcussions," Courage said.
He, in fact, blasted the Police Department for citing too few teenagers for curfew violations. About 220 teens have been written up for curfew violations since 2015, and he says in his days as a teacher, he saw kids 'wandering around all the time.'
Craven said rather than giving kids a criminal record, the City should use its resources to find out why the kids are on the streets, and attack the root causes.
"Use the services and organizations that exist in this city, rather than funneling them into the criminal justice system, which we know is harmful for them," she said.
The debate will continue on the issue, with a final decision on the fate of the youth curfew expected this spring.