Council update, 4/16

The Houston City Council had a rather busy meeting today, unanimously passing two major ordinances. Additionally, conversations were sparked on two other major issues. Specifically, the previously-noted hoarding ordinance passed, as well as a provision to expand subsidies for downtown living. Meanwhile, the discussion over both One Bin for All (recycling programs) and the Wage Theft ordinance’s implications continued.

First up, the Council unanimously passed the hoarding ordinance. Jayme Fraser at the Houston Chronicle has a somewhat fuller story on the topic. Among the provisions in the ordinance are fines (up to $550/day) for rampant hoarders who disturb the peace of their neighbors and clarifications on when the police could step in without a warrant. Councilmembers such as Richard Nguyen have previously voiced concern on the prospect of criminalizing a mental illness. However, following a reassurance from the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County, these fears were largely placated.

Next, the Council unanimously approved additional subsidies for living downtown. Mike Morris, also at the Houston Chronicle, first reported this on Twitter. Morris wrote a lengthier analysis in the paper on this issue last month; the issue at play, essentially, is that the City will continue offering subsidies of up to $15,000 per unit to the downtown developers.

Click here to read about the Recycling and Wage Theft developments!

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!

Council update 11/13

As I foreshadowed yesterday, the City Council today discussed creating “passport kiosks” at customs lines in the airport. These machines would allow for US Citizen to complete several tedious, mundane tasks (such as scanning their passport) at a machine, minimizing the amount of time spent with an actual agent. The process cuts down the time spent in customs lines significantly, as evident by identical programs recently enacted in New York and Chicago.

Anyways, this measure passed the City Council today, though I am not familiar with when the machines will be installed. I am not an international traveler, so once again, this will not affect me in the slightest, but I suppose it will help many others.

In other news, the controversial “wage theft ordinance” came before the Council today. As the astute may recall, Parker raised eyebrows when –somewhat abruptly– after her re-election last week, she told Mike Morris at the Houston Chronicle that the wage theft ordinance would be on this week’s agenda. Wage theft, of course, is when a company or individual knowingly promises wages in bad faith to employers. This includes not paying promised overtime pay as well.

Click here to find out what happened with the Wage Theft ordinance!

One question, Mayor…

…just what will you do with another two years?


The Houston Chronicle poses this question after examining the initial celebratory nature of Mayor Annise Parker’s re-election. Mike Morris at the Chronicle sat down with Parker and discussed the serious issues that Parker plans to bring up for the remainder of her time as Mayor. What is most surprising, however, is just how quickly she wishes for many of these agenda items to be discussed and voted on by the City Council.

Click here to see what issues and when!

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.