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June 6th, 2014:

Friday random ten: C U Later

This list is brought to you by artists whose names begin with the letter C.

1. Never Gonna Give You Up – CAKE
2. Pictures of Matchstick Men – Camper Van Beethoven
3. Love Will Keep Us Together – Captain & Tennille
4. You’re So Vain – Carly Simon
5. I Feel The Earth Move – Carole King
6. It Ain’t Me Dammit – Carolyn Wonderland And The Imperial Monkeys
7. Good Times Roll – The Cars
8. Round Midnight – Charlie Parker
9. Down The Old Plank Road – The Chieftains
10. Up The Junction – Chris Difford

Yes, I know about the Captain and Tennille. Don’t harsh my memories of cheesy 70’s variety shows, man.

Hey, it was the 70s. It made sense at the time, I swear.

On bathrooms and menaces

Nonsequiteuse has something to say.

Steven Hotze, M.D., recently published these outright lies about the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance:

Mayor Parker’s ordinance would include minority status for the so called “transgendered,” allowing a biological male to legally enter women’s public bathrooms, locker rooms and shower areas and expose himself to women and girls or just ogle them like a peeping Tom. All he has to claim is that he “thinks of himself as a woman.”

I want to protect my wife, daughters and granddaughters from being exposed to the dangers of male sexual predators masquerading as women in women’s public bathrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities. Don’t you want the same for your wife, daughters and granddaughters? Shame on Mayor Parker and city council for passing an ordinance that would put women and children at risk from sexual predators. That is why it is referred to as the Sexual Predators Protection Ordinance.

Shame on Steven Hotze for deliberately and willfully lying about the ordinance.

Let me break this down for you.

  • The ordinance does allow transgender people to enter public bathrooms.
  • Someone who is biologically male, but who lives life presenting herself as a woman, is considered to be a transgender woman, or transwoman. This person would use the same bathroom as a cisgender woman, or ciswoman, which is a woman who was both born biologically a woman and who presents herself to the world as a woman.
  • Transgender people have to use the bathroom for the very same reasons cisgender people do, and they have to do so when out in public for the exact same reasons, too.
  • A transman or transwoman using a bathroom is NOT committing a crime by being in a bathroom and utilizing the plumbing fixtures therein.
  • A transwoman or transman is NOT committing a crime by being a transgender person.
  • A person who enters a bathroom to commit a crime IS a criminal.
  • A person’s gender identity is irrelevant to any criminal intent or action. In other words, you are a criminal for committing a crime regardless of your gender.
  • A man who puts on a dress in order to commit a crime is not transgender. Such a person is a criminal using a disguise that he hopes will allow him to evade detection and apprehension.
  • “Thinking of himself as a woman” is not now, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever be, an affirmative defense to charges that a crime has been committed. The ordinance does not create such an affirmative defense, and never tried to do so.

Calling this equal rights ordinance a “sexual predator protection ordinance” is a deliberate attempt to scare and mislead people. This ordinance does not exempt any person or class of people from criminal penalties for committing criminal acts.

She has more, so go read the rest. If Steven Hotze is genuinely concerned about sexual predators in his midst, he’s not looking in the right places for them. Or maybe he should look closer to home.

We now know why Houston’s 311 director lost his job.

Kendall Baker was the subject of a sexual harassment investigation. Afterwards, Baker, who is also a minister, spoke out against Houston’s equal rights ordinance saying it would allow predators into women’s restrooms.

Baker is a member of the Houston Area Pastors Council. Just a few weeks ago, Pastor Baker addressed Mayor Annise Parker as he spoke against Houston’s equal rights ordinance during public comment.

“I say to you, what if I came into the bathroom while you were sitting on the toilet? Wouldn’t you feel uncomfortable?” Baker asked.

But city records show Baker was placed on indefinite suspension from the city, after the Office of the Inspector General reportedly found Baker had sexually harassed subordinate female employees.

Baker was among the multitude of candidates that ran for At Large #3 in the 2007 special election. Just as well he didn’t get elected, I’d say.

One last thing. I don’t know how well the petition effort to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance is going. It’s not that high a bar to clear, and there are sadly plenty of people out there who think like Steven Hotze and Kendall Baker, so I won’t be surprised if they succeed. It should be noted that the petitions, if they do get filed with the City Secretary, become public documents. If there are any closet supporters of repeal out there, the only way they can stay in that closet is to not sign one of those petitions. Just FYI.

Vehicle for hire vote tagged

No surprise here. I had thought the ordinance was still in committee, but it went before the full Council yesterday. It was of course tagged – we weren’t going to have this vote only one week after the HERO vote, no way in hell on that. Most of the story recapitulates stuff we know, so let’s see what the Council members are saying about it.

“I’m not satisfied with what has been presented so far, and we need to make sure we have this covered properly with regard to people with disabilities,” said Councilman Robert Gallegos, who noted his brother is in a wheelchair.

Gallegos and Councilman Dave Martin both mentioned that the council last week passed an equal rights ordinance prohibiting discrimination against more than a dozen protected groups, including those with disabilities, and should be consistent.

Taxis must provide trips for disabled passengers, but the same demand is not placed on the so-called transportation networking companies, Yellow Cab lobbyist Cindy Clifford said.

Tina Paez, director of the city’s regulatory affairs department, told council members in a memo that the city plans its own tweaks to the ordinance, including one aimed at getting companies like Uber and Lyft to deploy wheelchair-accessible vehicles among 5 percent of their drivers.

Councilman Michael Kubosh was concerned that setting a goal to achieve accessibility would not produce access for the disabled.

“I have a goal to lose 100 pounds,” he said. “You can have a goal. No one is going to punish you if I don’t meet your goal.”

The council discussion also included mention of Uber and Lyft’s decisions to launch preemptively in February, despite city officials urging them to be patient.

Councilman Mike Laster said Wednesday that 160 citations have been issued to the companies for operating illegally, 142 to Uber and 18 to Lyft; none has gone to court, he said.

“That just goes to show you these operators are operating illegally,” Laster said. “Either we have ordinances that we enforce or we don’t, and I think that’s part of the discussion.”

Lyft is still making some noise about not liking the city’s background check criteria, saying theirs is more stringent. I expect that will get sorted out. The main thing I’m curious about at this point is what the headcount is for the ordinance. The only Council member that I am sure has taken a firm position is CM Costello, who announced his support for Uber and Lyft more than a month ago. Houston Mayors generally don’t bring ordinances to the table to get voted down, so my assumption is that this will pass, I just don’t have a good feel for who’s voting which way at this point. What are your thoughts?

One more point to make is that I got an email from Joshua Sanders on behalf of Lyft Wednesday night that disputed the claims made by Lauren Barrash, founder of The Wave, about Lyft. Specifically, they denied that Lyft drivers have no shift limits or rest requirements. A comment left by a self-identified Lyft driver also addressed this, saying “After each 12 hours of being in Driver Mode, the system boots you out for 8 hours to get some rest”. I offered to print a statement about this by Lyft spokesperson Chelsea Wilson, but didn’t hear anything further from them.

Bell op-ed for eliminating the revenue cap

More like this, please.

Chris Bell

A decade ago, Houston voters restricted city property tax revenues to the combined rates of inflation and population increases. Like most arbitrary rules that politicians apply to math, this revenue cap sounds like a great idea until it meets the realities of a growing and expanding city.

During the Great Recession, property values remained largely constant while the global economy struggled and revenue to the city fell. City government tightened its belt, cutting spending and reducing its number of employees. Critical investments in our infrastructure, public safety and human services were deferred because we simply couldn’t afford them.

Today, with our strong economy and increased property values, we should be able to make those key investments we were unable to make. The only problem is that the revenue cap prevents us from doing so. We remain in the difficult position of either cutting services, laying people off, or having to seek voter approval to raise the tax rate – because our property tax revenues are capped.

Now, Houston budget writers are trying to recover from those bad choices. The revenue cap has created an artificial crisis for a growing population with rising real estate values. Instead of considering all the choices, Houston faces more hard, if false, choices in the near future.

Managing Houston’s ballooning debt obligations is going to squeeze services that will face an increasing demand. The better Houston does, the worse Houston will become. The revenue cap, as currently written, punishes Houston for its success, antithetical to our city’s core values.

See here for the background. You know I agree with what Bell says, so I’ll keep this brief. As a matter of philosophy, I’m opposed to stupid budget tricks, the vast majority of which offer little more than illusion, distortion, and perverse incentives. I hope to see more people join Bell’s call to repeal this bad law. I just wish more people had spoken against it back in 2004 as well.

Burnam drops electoral challenge

A good decision, in my opinion.

Rep. Lon Burnam

After months of legal wrangling, state Rep. Lon Burnam announced Thursday that he will not continue with his challenge of his primary election loss.

Shortly after losing on March 4 by 111 votes to local businessman Ramon Romero Jr., Burnam, D-Fort Worth, sued, saying the election for state House District 90 was tainted by illegal mail-in ballots.

Now, after three courts — including the state’s top civil court — refused to order the release of the applications for those ballots, Burnam has asked his legal team to drop the case.

“I did not make this decision because I believe my opponent won fairly, or that our suspicions of illegal conduct in the election have not played out,” Burnam said in a statement.

“I made this decision because the Texas Supreme Court has denied our final appeal for a subpoena to see county vote-by-mail records, making it impossible to prove that more than 111 ballots were illegally cast.

“These records will become public after the general election in November and I plan to revisit the issue at that time.”

Romero said he’s glad Burnam is dropping the lawsuit.

“We ran a race fair and square,” he said. “We asked people to vote for us and they did.

“I’m excited to begin the work of the district.”

See here for the last update. Not the most magnanimous exit by Burnam, and I’m not sure what the point of revisiting the issue after the November election is, but whatever. I’d feel more sympathy for Burnam if he hadn’t come close to parroting Republican talking points on vote fraud during the litigation. Having said all that, Lon Burnam was a strong progressive voice in the Legislature and he served with honor. He’ll be missed, and Rep.-elect Romero will have some big shoes to fill. The Texas Election Law Blog, who thinks Burnam got a raw deal from the courts and who has some thoughts about using iPads for absentee ballot applications, has more.