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May 5th, 2007:

Anti-clean air bill referred to Urban Affairs

Remember SB1317, the anti-clean air bill that could have been stopped in the Senate but wasn’t? And remember how I was worried that it might get routed to a friendly committee for a clear path to passage in the House? Well, as you can see from the first link in this post, it was in fact referred to the Urban Affairs Committee, which is not only the appropriate place for it, but one from which it will likely never emerge. Urban Affairs is chaired by Houston Democrat Kevin Bailey, and is made up of five Democrats and two Republicans; one of its members is Ellen Cohen, who as we know strongly opposes SB1317. So, barring anything strange (like sticking it into another bill as an amendment), that should be that. And good riddance if so.

Statewide smoking ban hits a snag

It was back in March when a statewide smoking ban bill was first heard in the House. Yesterday, it hit a snag after an amendment that would exempt all bars from consideration was adopted.

As it originally hit the House floor Friday, the bill by Rep. Myra Crownover would have banned smoking in workplaces, including restaurants and bars, with an exception for cigar bars.

But Rep. Harold Dutton painted the cigar-bar exemption as an elitist one, saying that people who go to regular bars should have the same rules as those who frequent fancy cigar bars.

“You don’t find cigar bars in inner-city neighborhoods,” said Dutton, D-Houston. “If we’re going to allow it over there (in neighborhoods with cigar bars), it seems to me that it’s only fair that we allow (it) on the other side of town.”

Among those objecting to the amendment on economic grounds was Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, who’s in the barbecue restaurant business. He said the ban should be equal among bars and restaurants.

“You’re going to drive my customers out of my restaurant to a bar, the ones that want to smoke,” Geren said.

An effort to kill Dutton’s amendment exempting bars, and some other establishments such as bingo halls, failed on a vote of 65-73.

Crownover, R-Denton, then accepted Dutton’s provision. Now, she is looking for a way to strip it from the bill.

The bill will be back on the floor on Monday. I should note that Sen. Rodney Ellis’ companion bill is still in committee.

Dutton’s amendment, besides exempting bars from the proposed statewide ban, would apparently invalidate an impending ban on smoking in bars in his hometown.

The Houston City Council last fall approved a ban on smoking in most indoor workplaces, including restaurants and bars, effective Sept. 1. Dutton’s amendment would say state restrictions supersede a local ordinance.

My guess is that either Dutton’s amendment will be removed, or the bill will die. We’ll see on Monday.


Have you voted yet?

HB218: Disenfranchisement stories

The Texas Democratic Party solicited feedback about people who would be unable to vote if HB218 were to become law. BOR has some of the feedback they got.

From Sondra in Houston:
My grandmother is in her 70’s, doesn’t drive, doesn’t work, and has no form of picture ID. All of the bills are in my grandfather’s name and she does not have any of the acceptable forms of non-picture ID. To obtain a certified copy of a birth certificate of marriage license would cost money that my grandparents can’t afford to spend just to be allowed to exercise their Constitutional right to vote, which they have been doing for over 50 years already. It doesn’t matter whether many people would be harmed by this legislation or just a few. Disenfranchising even 1 single voter is un-America and unacceptable.


From Katy in Austin:
In my household of 5, there are my son and daughter-in-law, my 90 year old father, my husband and myself. The two who could not vote, denied by me-the judge, would be my son and my father. My son was born with a hole in both ends of all his pockets and loses his cell phone and all his ID too often to count – mothers of sons will recognize this syndrome. My father no longer drives and so does not have a currently valid license – he doesn’t need it for his fairly isolated life. None of these have utility bills in their names – they live with me. They are not students, nor do they work for an ID producing entity. None of us has passports or certified copies of birth certificates to prove citizenship. Nor do any receive government checks – Dad’s social security check is direct deposited to his bank, and nobody is on the dole.

Basically, these are variations on Royal Masset’s mother; there are stories of poor and homeless folks in there, too. This will be the effect of HB218, all in the name of solving a non-existent problem. For shame.

Michael Berry interview

Didn’t get to this yesterday – Mike McGuff has a nice interview with soon-to-be-former City Council member and new radio mogul Michael Berry. The interesting bit to me is right here:

McGuff: I’m sure a lot of people wonder, “Why leave politics?” I think a lot of people figured maybe that one day you would run for mayor.

Berry: Mayor of the city of Houston is a dream job. But we have a good mayor now, and he is doing a good job. This was an opportunity that presented itself. I get to use my skill set, and I get to work with a company that is looking for a lot of change. That’s very exciting. I see myself as a reformer, changer type.

I still think there is a huge upside to radio as you get more into the web-based programming and as you get into some of the different media. So for me it is a great opportunity. It’s an opportunity to reach out and develop media partnerships that have never existed. That’s one of my primary missions, because I think some of the best talent in the city of Houston is in print and television as well. For too long we have ignored that.

McGuff: Are you going to miss politics, though? It’s a big part of your life, obviously.

Berry: It will have been six years coming up soon, and then I spent two years running, so that’s eight years. I will miss the public policy. I won’t miss the politics. The politics is a brutal contact sport, and it takes a toll on you. I am fortunate to have a supportive wife. I was fortunate to have friends. But you take some knocks. Everybody should pay their dues, and then move on.

We do indeed have a good Mayor now, but Berry’s answer seems to imply that his option was to take this job or run for Mayor in 2007. Obviously, that was never going to happen – Mayor White will have approximately the same level of challenge that he did in 2005. The question is what about 2009, when Mayor White gets term-limited. I know I’ve always considered Berry to be a potential challenger for Mayor at that time, and I’m not sure I’m seeing a real denial of that possibility. Berry could easily serve as Mister Clear Channel for two years, then having sufficiently recharged his batteries, jump into the 2009 Mayoral race.

I’m not saying he will do this, of course – far from it. Among other things, given how crowded the field may be in two years’ time, anybody who wants the job is going to have to start rounding up supporters early on. Frankly, he’d probably have one year max with Clear Channel before he’d have to make the run/don’t run decision. I’m just saying he could do this, and until I see him say the words “I am not a candidate for Mayor in 2009”, I’m going to keep him in mind as a potential entrant.

And since Council Member Berry has the admitted good taste to be a reader of this blog, perhaps he’ll leave a comment on the matter. I’ll be happy to revise my statement in the event of updated information.