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May 1st, 2014:

GHP endorses proposed NDO

Good for them.

RedEquality

The Greater Houston Partnership came out in support of Mayor Annise Parker’s proposed equal rights ordinance, giving the measure a boost as it heads to a City Council committee hearing on Wednesday.

Parker plans to put the measure before the full City Council for a vote next week.

The Partnership initially had reservations about the sweeping anti-discrimination proposal, aimed at private businesses as well as city employment and contracting, but President Bob Harvey said most of the group’s concerns had been addressed by the time the mayor’s office released a draft of the ordinance last week. The Partnership’s executive committee voted unanimously on Friday to support the proposal.

“The business community and the community in general views our city as remarkably diverse and welcoming,” Harvey said. “I think this ordinance is consistent with what this city stands for.”

That’s exactly right. Many large companies have had their own version of this for years, so it’s something they’re comfortable with. Via Houston Legal, the Houston Business Journal makes this message even more explicit.

If Houston businesses are concerned about the potential unintended consequences of Mayor Annise Parker’s Equal Rights ordinance, they should look to the Americans with Disabilities Act, said Stephen J. Roppolo, a regional managing partner and employment law attorney at Fisher and Phillips.

“All of us were concerned that 40 million people were going to be declared disabled,” Roppolo said. “There were some jokes at legal seminars that were only half jokes that claimed, ‘If you’re follicly challenged, you’re disabled.'”

The net result of ADA, Roppolo said, “was not nearly as bad — as expansive — as everyone thought.”

[…]

Gender identity can be confusing to some people, Roppolo said, but he’s confident human resources departments at most Houston businesses are already prepared for this. In fact, businesses have been dealing with gender identity issues for some time.

“Everyone likes black-and-white, easy-to-decide issues. Gender identity is not black and white; it’s shades of gray,” Roppolo said. “What I tell employers is that if you’re focused on whether that person, whomever they are, is doing the work in a way that helps the business, that’s all that matters.”

Furthermore, Roppolo said employers are increasingly sensitive to workplace harassment.

“It’s not productive,” he said. “When people are doing that kind of stuff to one another, they’re not doing work.”

But the biggest message that Roppolo and other lawyers have for Houston employers is: Relax.

“Sit tight,” he said. “This is going to be fine. At the same time, I am telling employers that this is going to take some work to get your front-line supervisors to understand what the new parameters are.”

Yes, it’s going to be fine. It’s good to have the GHP officially on board, since that ought to shut up anyone that wants to claim this fairly benign ordinance would somehow be harmful to business. If anything, it’s the opposite, as the kind of innovative employees that companies like to recruit want to live in a city that reflects their own values. There’s nothing controversial about this ordinance, which as CM Ellen Cohen, the chair of the Quality of Life Committee, noted has been revised multiple times after much feedback from stakeholders.

That doesn’t mean the usual suspects won’t piss and moan about it, of course. Back to the Chron:

Major Republican donor Steven Hotze sent an email from his Conservative Republicans of Texas PAC that dubbed the proposal “Parker’s Sexual Predator Protection Act,” suggesting the measure will create a loophole to allow people to lie about their gender to enter bathrooms where they could attack women and children. He also wrote against protections based on sexual orientation.

“This would make those who engage in deviant sexual acts a new minority class equal to African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and other legitimate minorities. This is a slap in the face of true minorities,” the email read.

Dave Welch, of the Houston Area Pastor Council, echoed Hotze in saying the ordinance is a solution to a problem that does not exist and that the true reason for Parker’s proposal is to force the Houston community to accept her same-sex marriage.

Texas Leftist has a copy of Hotze’s hate mail. I’m loathe to give these d-bags the attention they so desperately crave, but a reminder of who they are and what they stand for is always useful. They represent a small and shrinking group, and they deserve to be ignored. When Council finally takes up the NDO – in two weeks, since I assume someone will tag it – I hope Council passes it unanimously, or at least overwhelmingly. Don’t be with the losers here, Council members. Campos has more.

Davis vs the DGA

Show some respect, y’all.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

The chairman of the Democratic Governors Association gave a less-than-rosy assessment of Sen. Wendy Davis’ chances Tuesday and got a slam in return from her campaign.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, association chairman, failed to cite the Texas Democrat’s race for governor against Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott as a top target in talking to reporters, The Wall Street Journal reported. Instead, Shumlin pointed to races in Maine, Florida, Pennsylvania and, secondarily, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan.

“We’re hopeful in Texas but we all understand that Democrats haven’t won Texas in a long time,” he said. “I wish that we could spend money for Democrats in all 50 states. My job is not to promote governors’ races in states where we can’t win.”

His comments came after the DGA earlier set up a political action committee that raised $50,000 for Davis’ bid, and after a Public Policy Polling survey that showed Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott still has a double-digit lead on the Fort Worth Democrat.

Davis’ camp has questioned the poll and slapped back at Shumlin’s remarks in a statement by campaign manager Karin Johanson.

“The uninformed opinions of a Washington, D.C., desk jockey who’s never stepped foot in Texas couldn’t be less relevant to what’s actually happening on the ground,” Johanson said.

“The Davis campaign is constructing an operation never before seen in Texas that’s built on the hard work of 15,000 volunteers who knocked on more than 55,000 doors in one weekend, more than 120,000 individual donors and a candidate who is exciting voters in a way not seen since Ann Richards’ come from behind victory,” Johanson said.

To be fair to the DGA, the six states cited were all carried by President Obama twice, they all feature Republican incumbents who are trailing or leading by modest amounts in the polls, and in the case of Wisconsin it’s the opportunity to cut the legs out of a potential Presidential candidate. I can’t blame them for prioritizing those races; it’s what any rational organization would do. That said, Governor Shumlin could have been a lot more artful in talking about Texas and Wendy Davis. At the very least, the words “can’t win” should never have escaped his lips. How hard is it to say something like “We’re keeping an eye on Texas. It’s a tough state for Democrats, but Wendy Davis is doing a great job. She’s inspired thousands of people all over the state to volunteer and organize for her, and they’re doing tons of work to turn Texas blue.” Pretty boilerplate stuff – it says all the right things without committing the DGA to any action. It’s especially annoying for the DGA to be saying such things while continuing to solicit funds in Texas with emails that say “Wendy Needs You”. In contrast to Democracy For American, which is calling on its members to support Leticia Van de Putte, it looks even worse. (Howard Dean and DFA already support Wendy, in case you were wondering.) I don’t don’t think it’s asking too much for the DGA to avoid being a buzzkill about Wendy Davis. Texas Leftist has more.

Two wins against voter ID

Good news from Wisconsin.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Trying to crack down on in-person voter fraud isn’t a strong enough justification for Wisconsin’s voter ID law, a federal judge ruled Tuesday, because voter impersonation virtually never occurs now and is unlikely to become a real problem in the future.

In striking down the 2011 law signed by Gov. Scott Walker (R), U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman held that although the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in 2008 that states had an interest in preventing voter fraud, Wisconsin’s voter ID law wasn’t justified because voter fraud in person doesn’t really exist.

“The evidence at trial established that virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin,” Adelman ruled in Frank v. Walker. “The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past.”

The judge also held that re-enforcing public confidence in the electoral process wasn’t a sufficient justification for the voter ID law. He noted that there was no evidence that law enforcement authorities were simply failing to catch instances of voter impersonation because they were hard to detect.

If voter impersonation is occurring “often enough to threaten the integrity of the electoral process, then we should be able to find more evidence that it is occurring than we do,” Adelman wrote. “If, for example, voter impersonation is a frequent occurrence, then we should find more than two unexplained cases per major election in which a voter arrives at the polls only to discover that someone has already cast a ballot in his or her name.”

[…]

“This is a warning to other states that are trying to make it harder for citizens to vote,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. “This decision put them on notice that they can’t tamper with citizens’ fundamental right to cast a ballot. The people, and our democracy, deserve and demand better.”

This ruling follows on the heels of a state judge in Arkansas finding that state’s voter ID law unconstitutional. That ruling has been temporarily stayed pending appeal, and the Wisconsin ruling will also be appealed, so it’s still early days.

Rick Hasen analyzes the Wisconsin ruling.

This is about the best possible opinion that opponents of voter identification laws could have hoped for. It is heavy on both facts and on law. It is thoughtful and well written. It finds that a voter id law serves neither an anti-fraud purposes (because “virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin and it is exceedingly unlikely that voter impersonation will become a problem in Wisconsin in the foreseeable future”) nor voter confidence purposes. It finds that it burdens lots of voters (up to 300,000) voters. It finds these burdens fall especially on Black and Latino voters and that the reason is does is poverty, which is itself the result of prior legal discrimination.It enjoins enforcement of the law for everyone, and expresses considerable doubt that the Wisconsin legislature could amend the law to make it constitutional. It is about as strong a statement as one might imagine as to the problems the voter id law.

[…]

On the VRA issue, this is the first full ruling on how to adjudicate voter id vote denial cases under section 2. The key test appears on page 52 of the pdf: “Based on the text, then, I conclude that Section 2 protects against a voting practice that creates a barrier to voting that is more likely to appear in the path of a voter if that voter is a member of a minority group than if he or she is not. The presence of a barrier that has this kind of disproportionate impact prevents the political process from being ‘equally open’ to all and results in members of the minority group having ‘less opportunity’ to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.” The judge also approaches the causation/results question in a straightforward way. It is not clear whether the appellate courts will agree or not agree with this approach, which would seem to put a number of electoral processes which burden poor and minority voters up for possible VRA liability.

In sum, this is a huge victory for voter id opponents. But time will tell if this ruling survives.

So reasons for hope, but it’s way too early to celebrate. What the trial courts have done, the appeals courts and the Supreme Court can still undo. On the bright side, Kevin Drum explains why this case was different than Crawford v. Marion County, the 2008 Supreme Court decision that allowed for voter ID:

In a word, better arguments from one side. In Crawford, the state presented virtually no evidence that in-person voter fraud was a problem in Indiana—but neither did the plaintiffs provide much evidence that a voter ID law presented a serious obstacle to voting. Given this, the state’s interest in preventing voter fraud—even if that interest was more speculative than real—carried the day.

This time, the state once again produced virtually no evidence that in-person voter fraud was even a potential problem. But the judge was presented with loads of evidence that the burden of obtaining a photo ID was, in fact, quite high for low-income voters in particular. Since Crawford mandated the use of a balancing test to assess whether a photo ID law was justified, that made the difference and Wisconsin’s law was struck down.

He goes on to highlight parts of the decision that show the burden on some 300,000 voters in Wisconsin to get an accepted form of voter ID. The parallels to Texas should be obvious to anyone that has followed the issue in our state.

Speaking of Texas, there’s a hearing scheduled for today on motions made by AG Abbott to quash subpoenas to current and former members of the Legislature on their role in crafting the voter ID law – see here for the background, and here for the plaintiffs’ responses. How the judge rules on this motion will determine how much these legislators will have to testify in this case, and how much is protected by legislative privilege.

Texas blog roundup for the week of April 28

The Texas Progressive Alliance strongly favors net neutrality as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Costello comes out for Uber and Lyft

An email sent out by CM Stephen Costello:

CM Stephen Costello

CM Stephen Costello

Over the past few months, City Council has been discussing proposed changes to Chapter 46, the city ordinance dealing with vehicles for hire. I’ve listened during committee meetings and public sessions. I’ve studied the presentations and analyzed the data.

Most importantly, I’ve spoken to and read emails from my constituents from across the city – countless Houstonians from all walks of life who want and need more ways to get around our growing city.

I write today to speak out in favor of revising Chapter 46 so that new entrants to Houston’s transportation market may operate. Citizens overwhelmingly want more options, and I think it’s our duty to not stand in the way of competition and better technology and service. In the process, we can bring new jobs to our great city.

While I believe that government is not in place to create jobs, I do believe it should help foster an environment where the private sector can flourish and grow. By modernizing Chapter 46 we will be doing just that. Expanded free market competition will force current companies in existence to improve their product, while requiring new companies to find their own place in the market.

As a business owner myself, I know that we cannot underestimate the value of competition. In fact, on April 21st, the Federal Trade Commission released a relevant statement: “Competition is at the heart of America’s economy. Vigorous competition among sellers in an open marketplace can provide consumers the benefits of lower prices, higher quality products and services, and greater innovation. This is just as true for app-based transportation and other kinds of P2P services as well.”

I’ve heard a lot of talk about a level playing field. The status quo is not synonymous with a level playing field. The city will continue to ensure businesses that operate in our jurisdiction operate within our regulatory framework. While we must always protect the public good, it is not the role of the government to protect companies from competition, quite the opposite. We opened Hobby Airport to international flights to compete with Bush Intercontinental, and I will continue to advocate for business-friendly ordinances that will increase competition citywide.

Giving more options to the senior who needs a ride to the doctor’s office, the student who has to get to class, the person who’s had too much to drink and doesn’t want to get behind the wheel, the businessperson needing a quick ride to catch a flight is a good thing.

City government should not be picking winners and losers. I don’t want to dictate who gets the fare. That is up to the consumer, but that can’t happen unless we first update the outdated way we think and operate as a city. Houston shouldn’t lag behind. We should be ahead of the curve; we are a global leader.

I’m ready to move forward. I’m ready to work with my colleagues and the administration to update Chapter 46 to allow Houstonians, not city government, decide which private company they choose to rely on for their personal transportation needs.

Sincerely,

Stephen C. Costello

As far as I know, CM Costello is the first Council member to publicly announce a position on revising Chapter 46 to allow Uber and Lyft and similar services to operate in Houston. The draft ordinance has been released, but as the Ordinance Feedback page says, there is no date for it to be brought before Council just yet. I suspect this is one part wanting to get the non-discrimination ordinance passed, and one part lining up support for the Chapter 46 revisions. I figure we’ll start hearing from more Council members on this shortly.