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May 12th, 2007:

Runoff coming

Melissa Noriega came close to winning outright today, but fell a little short. Here are the totals. She got 46.5% of the vote, with Roy Morales coming in second at 18.7%. Total turnout was a shade over 4%. The runoff will be in June – I heard June 9 bandied about but can’t confirm offhand – and I figure we’re looking at 2% turnout for that one.

I’ll have more in the morning, but it’s over for now. You’ll be seeing this picture again over the next 30 or so days. Good night.

Here come the bikini bars

As predicted, the local strip clubs have a Plan B: Reinventing themselves as bikini bars.

Topless and fully nude clubs could avoid regulation altogether if their dancers wear bikinis, or even skimpier opaque coverings, allowing them to get around the “sexually oriented” classification, police and city officials acknowledged.

That would allow the clubs to remain open at their current locations, despite an ordinance now prohibiting them from operating within 1,500 feet of churches, schools, parks and residential areas.

“If they do, that’s within the law,” said Capt. Steve Jett, who heads the Houston police vice division, which regulates the clubs, along with adult bookstores, “modeling” studios and other places now targeted under the ordinance.

“If they don’t, we’ve got investigations already going, and we will continue those investigations and make arrests in the fairly near future,” he said.

The clubs’ strategy has been under consideration for some time, as the deep-pocketed leaders of Houston’s adult industry have waged a court battle with the city since a tougher ordinance was passed in 1997.

I seem to recall, after the ordinance’s initial passage, that some clubs started featuring dancers with latex covering their nipples, and fuller bikini bottoms instead of the standard G-string/thongs. Again, as I recall, this had to do with a different aspect of the ordinance, in which dancers had to have – and display on their bodies somewhere – a license that included their real names. The “extra coverage” was a way around that, and I suspect what we’ll see is a return to that.

The question still remains as to what any such change would mean to the clubs’ ability to turn a profit:

“In the industry, there has been significant discussion about how businesses could change their method of operation and become compliant under the ordinance,” said the owner at one of Houston’s largest topless clubs who asked for anonymity out of fear that his employees would be targeted first.

Such a loophole exists because the ordinance uses specified anatomical areas and activities to define sexually oriented businesses. If employees in the businesses strategically place opaque clothing on certain body parts, and they’re careful not to simulate sexual acts, those operations would be exempt.

“If you have the proper coverage, then it takes you out of the ordinance,” said Nelson Hensley, a lawyer who recently filed state lawsuits on behalf of some adult businesses related to amortization, a process of allowing them to recoup their investments before closing or moving.

With bikinis, the clubs would be able to operate anywhere, subject to state alcohol regulations and local deed restrictions, city lawyers said. They also wouldn’t have to comply with other restrictions in the sexually oriented businesses ordinance, such as rules prohibiting close contact between entertainers and patrons.

What’s not clear is whether those customers, used to seeing topless or nude entertainers, will stop visiting the establishments.

“I still think it will be a profitable business,” said Thomas Venza, a manager at Centerfolds Adult Entertainment in the 6100 block of Richmond.

But some who support the ordinance disagree.

“They’re going to be trying to adapt an ad-hoc business plan to an existing format. That isn’t going to work,” said City Councilman Adrian Garcia, a former police officer who chairs the council’s public safety committee. “At some point, customers will be looking for the real thing, and they will be going somewhere else.”

It’s possible we’ll start seeing new clubs open up outside of Houston’s city limits. As for how the existing clubs will cope, it’s anybody’s guess. Maybe the latex thing will be close enough for most customers, especially if the threat of getting raided is basically eliminated. I’m in no position to know.

Toby Belch has a link to and excerpt from the ordinance itself. You can see why it will have such a drastic effect as written and enforced.

Get out there and vote!

It’s May 12. You know what that means.

Vote first, then go to the Art Car Parade. Polls are open until 7 PM.

Farmers Branch mayor: Vote against the ordinance

Better late than never, I guess.

The mayor of the first city in Texas to forbid landlords from renting apartments to illegal immigrants is urging voters to strike down the ordinance.

It’s the first time Mayor Bob Phelps has taken a public position against the measure, which was adopted in November and resulted in lawsuits and outcry from civil rights groups, residents, property owners and businesses.

[Today], voters in this Dallas suburb will become the first in the country to decide whether to repeal or approve a city ordinance that would ban apartment rentals to most illegal immigrants.

Phelps, former Mayor David Blair and former City Manager Richard Escalante all signed a letter Tuesday opposing the measure.

“The City should not waste millions of taxpayer’s dollars to defend an ineffective ordinance that is likely never to become law,” said the letter, which was an advertisement mailed by a group opposing the ordinance.

Documents reviewed by The Associated Press show that the city paid almost $262,000 in immigration-related legal fees, mostly with taxpayer money, through March. And the costs are expected to climb. Council members increased the city’s legal budget last month to $444,000.

I’m more than glad to have Mayor Phelps on board with this – his colleague, former Mayor Blair was ahead of him on the issue – but I have to ask: Where was he while this piece of ignorance was being debated in his City Council? Call me crazy here, but I’m thinking he might have affected the debate a bit more efficiently back then.

Again, better late than never. But geez, what took him so long? Link via Dig Deeper Texas.

One bourbon, one scotch, and one lottery ticket

You know what I was thinking? I was thinking that what our great state’s watering holes really needed was the ability to sell lottery tickets. And now, they may just get it.

The House gave final approval this afternoon to a bill by Rep. Chente Quintanilla, D-Tornillo, that would OK the sale of lottery tickets in bars. Plenty of people might wonder whether hawking lottery tickets around inebriated people is good public policy, but few in the House were asking any questions.

The bill passed with no debate, either last night on second reading or today, when it passed 116-21. One legislative aide explained that when the House took up the measure last night, the House’s most ardent gambling opponents were stuck in some committee.

The commission estimated that it could raise $20 million over two years by expanding ticket sales to certain drinking establishments.

It’s now been passed on third reading, so whatever happens next is up to the Senate. I should note that the Statesman blog puts its revenue estimate at $64 million. I’m not sure where the discrepancy is. The El Paso Times’ Brandi Grissom quotes the bill’s author:

“If a person is going to consume liquor, maybe they will consume less if they can sit there and buy lottery tickets,” Quintanilla said.

Plus, he said, hopefully it will bring in more lottery money to send to schools.

Um, okay. Given how stacked against you the Lottery is, I figure it’ll lead to more drinking to drown the sorrow of losing. Alternately, I suppose a big winner might buy a round for the house. Either way, I don’t see how less consumption is likely to follow. And if it did, that would mean less revenue for the state. Not enough to offset the increase from the lottery sales, perhaps, but still.

Anyway. Grissom also cited the $64 million figure, for what it’s worth. Rep. Quintanilla is apparently looking for a Senate sponsor, so we’ll see what happens.

Forty-one cents

Get ready for another postage increase on Monday.

Come Monday, postage for a first-class letter will rise to 41 cents. The last increase also was a 2-cent bump in January 2006.

For Mary Bermudez, 67, standing in line at the downtown Post Office Thursday, mailing is her communication method of choice since she isn’t computer-savvy.

“The first stamp I can remember was a 3-cent stamp,” Bermudez said. “It has gone up so many times. It’s really ridiculous. Oh, well.”

Bermudez had come to buy 2-cent stamps to use with leftover 39 cent stamps. She also bought a supply of the USPS’ new “forever stamp.”

The forever stamp, available since April 12, can be used regardless of future price hikes.

It proved a popular buy for customers at the 401 Franklin post office Thursday.

Yes, the forever stamp. Great idea, if you ask me. This isn’t bad, either:

Andrew T. Gardener was purchasing rolls of new stamps Thursday.

He suggested the post office sell advertising on stamps similar to billion-dollar businesses like McDonald’s.

“It would save the consumer. It’s worth a try,” Gardener said. “I think they need to be creative to come up with ideas to subsidize the cost.”

Hey, if they cost a few pennies less, I’d buy corporate-sponsored stamps. I bet quite a few other folks would, too.

HB1892 veto coming

Game on.

Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday threatened to veto a transportation bill that includes a moratorium on toll roads and to call the Legislature back into special session even if lawmakers override his veto.

The bill — House Bill 1892 — would create a two-year moratorium on building new toll roads, but it also would give Harris County commissioners greater authority to build toll roads locally without the involvement of the Texas Department of Transportation.

Perry said the bill would seriously jeopardize transportation funding throughout Texas.

“The good news is, we still have time to fix it,” Perry said. “If not, then I have no other option as the leader of this state than to bring the Legislature back until we address this issue and get Texas back to where it can have a vibrant transportation infrastructure.”

Perry said his opposition to the bill has nothing to do with the moratorium provisions.

He said that, if the Legislature feels so strongly about the moratorium, it can send him a separate Senate bill pending in the House Calendars Committee that would establish the moratorium.

“I’ll sign the moratorium bill tomorrow,” Perry said. “This is not about a moratorium.”

[…]

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the Senate sponsor, said he has been involved in negotiations with Perry’s staff.

“We’ve agreed to terms and conditions that all parties in the room have agreed are satisfactory,” Carona said.

[…]

Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, is the author of a toll road moratorium bill that was added to Smith’s legislation. Nichols said he has been left out of the negotiations.

“It’s going to be interesting to see if they come up with something that’s acceptable to everybody if all the parties aren’t sitting at the table,” Nichols said.

Didn’t get to this earlier. There’s still a lot of talk of compromise, but no action yet. The deadline for Perry to veto or not is Thursday. Stay tuned.