Payday Lending ordinance passed

Scroll to the bottom to read about Councilmember Rodriguez’s blowup on Twitter against three Chronicle writers, Texpatriate and Noah M. Horwitz

The Houston Chronicle reports that the Payday Lending ordinance, which has been kicked around at the City Council for a few weeks now, has been passed by the City Council in a lopsided vote of 15-2. The strong majority support placated fears that the ordinance would be delayed into next year’s session, complete with a City Council riddled with new (and sometimes unpredictable) individuals.

The ordinance requires payday lenders to register with the City, provide contracts in easy-to-read and straightforward language, limits the amount of a loan and places strict restrictions on the number of times a loan may be refinanced. While a cap on interest is omitted, the ordinance has some real teeth and is noticeably stronger than that initially proposed by the Mayor. It is worth saying that the Mayor has received some pretty generous contributions from Payday Lending PACs over the years, so the new hefty ordinance is a nice precedent to set that you must not always be a slave to who has given you money.

Among some of the ordinance’s detractors were those who believed it was overkill –though still acknowledged something needed to be done. They were led by Councilmember Jack Christie, who proposed an amendment that would have largely gutted the provisions of the act. The amendment garnered six votes, including Andrew Burks, C.O. Bradford and Dave Martin.  While all of these individuals gave long pontifications against the regulations earlier, they all ultimately voted in favor. Helena Brown –the dependable ‘no’ vote– and James Rodriguez were the only dissenting voices in the final tally.

Click here to read about Rodriguez’s Twitter temper-tantrum!

Controversy over Strip Club deal

Over Thanksgiving, I noted that Mayor Parker had settled a longstanding dispute with a cabal of adult entertainment facilities (colloquially known as strip clubs). The clubs had been in and out of court nonstop since a 1997 ordinance was enacted to confront many of the perceived excesses therein. Specifically, enforcing a “three-foot rule” between the entertainers and patrons, disallowing nudity and removing private rooms. Ostensibly, these regulations were done to help eradicate shady business at these establishments, such as drugs and prostitution. However, there was also obviously a splash of the morality police in the mix; but that is neither here nor there.

The settlement between the clubs and the Mayor, which allows exemptions for lap dances as well as topless dancing, has now come under fire from both local activists and members of the City Council. The Houston Chronicle reports that Bob Sanborn, the director of a non-profit aimed at protecting at-risk children, blasted the deal agreed to by the Mayor. In addition to providing the exemptions to the ordinance, the deal also requires donations to HPD’s human trafficking fund, information sessions on trafficking and mandatory blacklists for employees convicted of drug or prostitution offenses. The deal only applies to a specific 16 clubs.

Click here to read about which Councilmembers opposed this deal!

Thou shall not be a Usurer, Part III

Nearly two weeks ago, Mayor Parker announced an ambitious plan to regulate Payday lenders. The proposed ordinance, which was largely crafted by City Attorney David Feldman, was modeled after other municipal ordinances currently in place throughout the State, including in Austin, Dallas, El Paso and San Antonio. The ordinance requires, among other provisions, the loan sharks usurers lenders register with the city and provide easy to understand, concise contracts. Additionally, certain interest rates are capped and predatory tricks are forbidden. The ordinance immediately received somewhat harsh pushback from the business community.

Since the State of Texas does not have uniform regulations on these stores, a legitimate concern exists that the passage of the regulation will simply drive the institutions en masse to just outside the City limits. Accordingly, the usurious and predatory tactics will persist, but the City of Houston would lose the tax base. Such a solution would not work for anyone, and is similar to the rationale I have used in the past to discourage municipalities or even smaller States from unilaterally raising the minimum wage too far off the national base value.

Anyways, as promised, Mayor Parker officially presented this ordinance to the City Council this morning, with a tentative vote planned for next Tuesday. Today, a fair share of City Councilmember expressed strong reservations with the measure while many more were quite supportive.

Click here to read more about who opposes this ordinance!

Wage Theft unanimously passed

The Houston Chronicle reports that the controversial “Wage Theft” ordinance was been unanimously approved (Helena Brown was absent) by the City Council. As the astute may recall, this proposal was first proposed in July, before being shelved in August, resurrected shortly after the election, and temporarily delayed again last week. Needless to say, it has been a bumpy ride for this ordinance, but it paid off for proponents today.

The law creates a coordinator (Czar) to monitor instances of wage theft in the City of Houston and blacklist those employers who engage in it from receiving city contracts. Wage theft can take many forms including the misclassification of workers, denial of benefits or simply overt wage withholding. While original proposals consisted of items such as lifetime bans from city contracts for engaging in wage theft, the final version is a more mellow 5 year exclusion. Additionally, while the original proposal would impose the blacklist after a final conviction and only overturn it upon successful appeal, the approved ordinance would only impose the blacklist after the employer “exhausts all available appeals.”

Click here to read more!

Texpatriate supports Wage Theft ordinance

The Houston Chronicle recently published an editorial supporting the pending Wage Theft ordinance before the Houston City Council. The board is honored to concur with that opinion, as we believe that Wage Theft is a significant issue which must be addressed by our government and stopped through all necessary means.

Wage Theft is typically defined as the illegal withholding of earned salaries or benefits of an employee. While this sometimes includes simply not paying an employee, it more often takes the form of not delivering promised overtime pay, giving wages illegally below the minimum wage or not extending earned benefits. In many cases, it affects undocumented immigrants. Thus, this crime often goes unreported and is woefully under-prosecuted.

When the Council first brought up this idea in July, this board predicted the solution would be both comprehensive and effective. Roughly six weeks later, amid steady criticism from centre-right Councilmembers such as Dave Martin, the proposal was shelved. Just last week, the proposal was delayed once again. Ostensibly, the ordinance should be voted on tomorrow, but considering recent events, we cannot be certain unless enough pressure is put on the Council.

Click here to read the remainder of the editorial!

Brown and Hall agree on taxes

The Houston Chronicle reports on a futile effort by a City Councilmember, Helena Brown, to continue her one-person crusade against the Government. This is a typical Wednesday at City Hall, except to note the strange ally Brown garnered today.

As the council was set to approve the property tax rates for the year at today’s meeting, Councilmember Brown used a strange set of numbers to note that, as opposed to City data showing a 6% “revenue increase,” the Harris County Appraisal District (HCAD) notes the number is closer to 10.5%. It is important to note that a “revenue increase” just means that more money is being collected, not that the percentages have increased. This is actually, in some ways, a good sign, as it shows that property values have recovered from the economic downturn.

Councilmember Brown then proposed two amendments, one to decrease the property tax by two cents, and one to decrease it by one cent. Both measures failed, as the rest of the Council voted in unanimity against Councilmember Brown. Very conservative individuals such as Councilmember Christie, Martin and Pennington voted in favor of the measure. Accordingly, it would be unwise to conflate this with a normal left-vs-right measure.

To read about Brown’s unlikely ally, click here!

Wage Theft proposal slowed

The Houston Chronicle reports that the “Wage Theft” proposal, which as some might recall, would create a Wage Theft czar who would keep of companies accused of improperly stealing overtime pay from workers.

Anyways, the City Council looked over the draft ordinance yesterday and had some choice words to say, Specifically, the conservatives on the council, backed by their business lobby friends, attempted to kill the ordinance. As Morris’ article continues, with a quote from Councilmember Dave Martin:

“This is overkill,” Councilman Dave Martin said. “There is a problem, we recognize it, but to create an administrative function seems to me like it’s going to be an expensive proposition and it’s going to be the city getting itself in the middle of employee-employer disputes.”

I tried to get some more quotes out of Morris vis-a-vis specific stands by other Councilmembers, but was unsuccessful. That being said, I suspect that other right-wing Councilmembers assisted in piling onto this measure. These would include people like Jack Christie, Helena Brown and Oliver Pennington.

Fortunately, some cooler heads also voiced opinions on the matter, specifically interest groups reached for comment by Morris:

Fe y Justicia Worker Center Executive Director Laura Perez-Boston described the proposal as watered down, but still important.

“This ordinance only impacts your business if you knowingly and willingly denied earned wages to your employees,” she said. “If you’re paying them fairly, it does not impact you and should not be of concern to responsible businesses.”

Richard Shaw, of the Harris County AFL-CIO, agreed.

“The city can choose with whom it wants to do business,” he said. “Do not do business with criminals. That’s what we’re asking.”

I absolutely agree with Shaw on this matter. It is not overkill to punitively punish those who steal from some of the most vulnerable among us. From what I understand, this measure was not voted on one way or another, and since the ordinance is still a draft, it will be sat on for a little longer. There is still no timeline in sight for such an ordinance.

In other news, I have officially moved into my new dorm in Boston. It has central air conditioning, which in Boston, is a pretty big deal. I even hung up the old tricolor, to remember where I came from as I continue writing about it.

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