Majority of Councilmembers support NDO

As I reported yesterday, the first real draft proposal of Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance has officially been introduced to the City Council and unveiled to the general public. Longtime followers of the saga could probably explain it as well as me at this point, but the ordinance does three basic things. First, it bans discrimination against LGBT people (among countless other demographics, all of which are already protected under Federal Law) in government sectors. Second, discrimination is banned in businesses, both in employment and public accommodation. The anecdote I keep using is that a restaurant would not be able to deny service to a gay patron, nor fire a lesbian waitress for coming out to her boss. That last part, extending the ordinance’s protections to private employment, was a hard-fought victory for the GLBT caucus in Houston, as well as all opponents of homophobia.

Mayor Annise Parker was originally tepid on this provision because there were ostensibly not enough Councilmembers supporting it. A few weeks ago, my sources counted eight supporters of private employment protections in the NDO (Mayor Annise Parker and CMs Stephen Costello, David Robinson, Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, Ed Gonzalez, Robert Gallegos and Mike Laster). This was exactly one vote shy of the needed majority for passage. However, a couple more Councilmembers have now gone out in the open supporting such legislation, giving it the green light to becoming law.

Click here to see which Councimembers are now supportive!

Non-discrimination ordinance introduced

The first draft of Houston’s proposed Non-discrimination ordinance has officially been unveiled to the public and will be introduced to the City Council in the coming days (IT IS AVAILABLE HERE). In short, and to answer everyone’s question, the ordinance protects LGBT rights in private employment…sometimes. As I have previously elucidated, discrimination is typically legislated against in three ways. First, the government prohibits any internal discrimination of its own, be that in public employment, public services or in the private companies it contracts therewith. Second, discrimination in public accommodations is prohibited. This hails back to the days of the Civil Rights movement, when the original bills on these topics were aimed to combat bus lines, restaurants or bars that had segregated sections. Similarly, this proposed ordinance would ban, for example, a restaurant denying service to a gay patron.

But what if the restaurant had a lesbian employee who was fired upon coming out to her boss? That is what the third section of the ordinance, regarding private employment, deals therewith. I cannot say that I have heard of all too many cases of private employers firing people because of their sexual orientation, and given that Texas uses at-will employment it would be enormously silly to choose such a route for termination. However, the principle of protecting LGBT populations is important nonetheless, important enough to necessitate pertinent legislation on the subject. Just one person being fired for such an asinine reason is one too many.

Click here to read more, including the exact provisions!

Parker pulls an Obama

This is a few days late, I have had a whirlwind of a weekend in Houston, but I felt that this story was specifically too important to ignore. In a recent speech and press release, Mayor Annise Parker outlined her proposals for a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT rights. The only problem with this, of course, it is not all that comprehensive. Texas Leftist sums up the position somewhat well, as does Lone Star Q. In short, it covers both public employment and private corporations providing public accommodations. However, it does not cover private employment. This means, simply put, that most people could continue to be fired in Houston just for being gay.

Ostensibly, Parker sold out on this important detail because she did not have the votes on the council. It is important to note, however, that the comprehensive NDOs are not as ubiquitous as many may think. Only Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth fully ban the private employer discrimination, whereas El Paso and San Antonio have ordinances similar to the one Mayor Parker has proposed. For all of Julian Castro’s accolades in his past last year for a comprehensive NDO, it did not actually go all that far in comparison.

Click here to read an analysis of how things stand at City Hall!

What have I missed at City Hall?

I wrote at length about the brouhaha over Firefighter pensions yesterday, and it was certainly an important issue, but was definitely not the only thing that went on at City Hall. As many will probably already know, a local committee held a contentious hearing on the entrance of ridesharing software/transportation companies Lyft and Uber into the marketplace. Additionally, a protest was held immediately outside the building in opposition to the planned “One bin for All” recycling program. Finally, late last night, the Houston Chronicle put out a damning report on the state of the City’s finances, specifically regarding the long-term pension obligations the city faces.

First things first, the Uber issue. Dug Begley, one of the more talented writers at the Houston Chronicle, has the full story on this hearing, including many of the reactions and initial implications. At its core, the issue revolves around whether or not to change the many regulations facing the transportation industry. Countless taxi drivers flooded the public session of the pertinent committee hearing to voice their opposition. I wrote a fairly lengthy piece a few weeks ago on this subject, basically opposed to changing the rules for Uber. My position has only calcified in recent days as Uber has openly thumbed its nose at the City and ignored the rules set in place. Begley’s piece even notes that Uber has already been busted charging fees to customers, something they unequivocally promised not to do until the regulatory controversy was worked out.

Click here to read what else I have missed!

Everybody’s a critic

A few days ago, I wrote about the upcoming brownouts at the Fire Department. At that time, the Council Budget Committee voted on a non-binding resolution to idle certain trucks and force the HFD to solve a ballooning deficit solely from their own coffers. This deficit was largely created by a flood of overtime pay in just a couple of big holiday weekends. Critics charge a favorable union contract for the deficit.

Now, Mayor Parker has announced that she will go forward with implementing the Committee’s resolution. The brownouts will begin soon and follow through to the end of the fiscal year (the end of June). As Off the Kuff notes, one of the bigger critics of this strategy is Councilmember C.O. Bradford, who has long been both sympathetic to the firefighters and unfriendly towards the Mayor’s platform and agenda. However, the Parker/Bradford dichotomy is a drastic oversimplification of the real politics of the issue. Also disagreeing with Mayor Parker on the issue has been Mayor Pro Tem Ed Gonzalez, a typical ally of the administration.

Click here to read more on this issue, including some surprising comments from a State Senator!

Sylvester Turner will run for Mayor

KRIV reports that Sylvester Turner, a longtime State Representative, will run for Mayor of Houston in 2015. Turner has run for Mayor twice before, in 1991 and 2003. While he finished in a distant third place in 2003, he proceeded into a very close runoff election during his first run. In that race, he lost in a squeaker to Bob Lanier after Wayne Dolcefino ran a slimy expose based on utter falsehoods. Turner later sued Dolcefino for libel, but that is neither here nor there. My point is that if you think of Sylvester Turner with preconceived notions of alleged wrongdoing, you are totally incorrect.

In the 22 years since then (30 years total, in the House), Turner has truly become a force to be reckoned with on the State Legislature. He currently serves as the Vice-Chair of the House Appropriations Committee (the ranking Democrat) and is one of the biggest leaders among the minority party in the Capitol. Instrumental in the passage of a massive water-infrastructure constitutional amendment this past session, he earned a spot on Texpatriate’s list of Best LegislatorsTexas Monthly also noted his massive contribution to the session by naming him the Bull of the Brazos.

Click here to read Turner’s announcement!

Parker names Committee chairs

Shortly after the inauguration nearly two weeks ago (wow, time flies), City Councilmember Stephen Costello announced he had been selected as the Chair of the Finance & Budget Committee for the second straight term. Today, as the Houston Chronicle reports, the Mayor appointed Chairs and Vice-Chairs to the remaining seven committees.

First up, Parker creates a Subcommittee within Costello’s budget committee that will deal with Pensions and Health Benefits. Councilmember Dave Martin, a conservative with somewhat right-wing views on the guaranteed benefits, will Chair this subcommittee. The decision is strange for Parker, as she has often sought a middle ground on this budgetary matter, with views typically aligning with the far more moderate Republican (Costello). Still, sometimes these chairmanships are nothing more than empty titles, so it is possible I might be reading too much into it. Meanwhile, Councilmember Jerry Davis, who is now the Vice-Mayor Pro Tem, will also serve as the Vice Chair of Costello’s Budget and Fiscal Committee.

Councilmember Ed Gonzalez, who previously Chaired the Public Safety Committee, will continue in that position for his final term. Gonzalez also serves as the Mayor Pro Tem. This committee will consider at least one high-profile issue this term, the issue of whether or not to ban texting while driving. Councilmember Brenda Stardig, another Republican with ties to Parker, was named the Vice-Chair of this committee.

Click here to read more!

Council update, 1/8

As was first reported by Texpatriate last month, there was a pending proposal before the City Council to combat food deserts (areas, predominantly within poor neighborhoods, that lack a meaningful number of healthy grocery stores) by loosening restrictions of who could sell alcohol where in the neighborhoods. While these two issues may appear unrelated, the logic behind the push is actually quite sound. Simply put, current alcohol ordinances in the City prohibit stores from selling alcohol within 1000 feet of a school or church. In many lower income neighborhoods, churches often have a ubiquitous presence in strip centers alongside other stores. Accordingly, Mayor Parker and others on the City Council argued that these restrictions should be loosened to 300 feet in order to attract new grocery stores to the area.

This morning, the City Council approved the relaxed regulations. They only apply to stores with at least 10,000 square feet of retail space, forbids establishments that allow onsite consumption (sorry, Whole Foods!) and excludes any stores that obtain over a quarter of their profits from the alcoholic sales. The move was largely the brainchild of Councilmember Stephen Costello, who has dedicated a fair amount of time recently to combating the negative effects of food deserts. The regulations were put in place to make sure only actual large Grocery Stores could take advantage of the new rules, and not stop-and-go convenience stores or otherwise any sort of bar.

Click here to read Costello’s statement as well as other action taken by the Council!

It’s 2014, not 2015…

…but that has not stopped pundits from prognosticating as if it were.

The Houston Chronicle reports that posturing for the 2015 Mayoral election has already begun. Among the candidates mentioned are State Representative Sylvester Turner (who previously ran in both 1991 and 2003) and former Congressman Chris Bell (who ran in 2001). The article insinuates both have declared intentions to run, though this is the first I have heard of any of it. The article also mentions Councilmembers Stephen Costello (who evidently has announced intentions himself), Ed Gonzalez and Oliver Pennington as all looking at the race.

Names the Chronicle left off include former Councilmember Sue Lovell, Sheriff Adrian Garcia and Eric Dick. The last one in particular has the capacity to play the role of a major spoiler in the election and could ultimately determine whether someone such as Costello could even get into the runoff in the first place. There are also those who will probably not be running, such as Ben Hall or now-former City Councilmember James Rodriguez, City Controller Ronald Green and Councilmember C.O. Bradford.

Continue reading

Texpatriate’s 2013 Person of the Year

Nearly one month ago, this board began its search for Texpatriate‘s Person of the Year. Our rules were somewhat simple. The individual who contributed the most (good or bad) to both Texas and Houston politics would win the contest. However, upon closer scrutiny, this formula is not so simple. Often times our biases will blind us as to what the unadulterated facts right in front of us are, and will deceive us into believing something untrue. This board finds no greater example than with Ted Cruz. We believe that, speaking strictly to Texas affairs, Sen. Cruz has made far and away the most news in the State; much, much more than Wendy Davis. A majority of this board dislikes his political views, and we are certain that most of our readers have similar reservations, but there is no denying his tremendous impact upon the way things get done, not only in Texas, but around the country.

Sadly for Sen. Cruz, however, our criteria includes more than just what happens in Statewide or national news. Alternatively, we look for the individual who affects both the politics and governance of Houston and the State of Texas. To fit such a bill, this board can think of no individual better suited than Annise Parker. While we originally bestowed this honor on the Mayor before (in 2009), we believe she may be even more deserving here and now. Forget about being reelected –every Mayor gets reelected and Parker had notoriously incompetent opposition this year– and focus instead on Mayor Parker’s leadership both on the City Council and out in the field with Houston. Indeed, as far as credible Statewide candidates exist for the Texas Democrats, this board suggests they look no further than Mayor Parker.

Click here to read the rest of the editorial!