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Fort Stockton

Bill to outlaw non-discrimination ordinances filed

From The Observer:

RedEquality

A Fort Bend County Republican has introduced a bill that would bar cities from adopting or enforcing non-discrimination ordinances that include protected classes not contained in state law. Texas law doesn’t include sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

As a result, state Rep. Rick Miller’s House Bill 1556 would undo LGBT protections passed by numerous cities, including Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston and Plano. Altogether more than 7.5 million Texas are covered by such ordinances.

“HB 1556 will prevent local governments from expanding business regulations beyond limitations established in state law,” Miller told the Observer. “Competing and inconsistent local ordinances interfere with economic liberty and discourage business expansion. By promoting instead of restricting business growth, this bill is about job creation and an improved state economy, both of which have a direct, positive impact on Texas citizens.

“Because every private business is different, nothing in the bill prevents local businesses from voluntarily adopting their own discrimination policy not currently included in state law,” he added.

Rep. Miller’s son, Beau Miller, an openly gay 41-year-old Houston attorney, is an HIV and LGBT activist. Miller said he was “extremely disappointed” to learn about his father’s bill.

“If the bill progresses through the Legislature, I’m sure there will be a robust conversation about the impact not only on minority communities, such as the LGBT community, but also on local rule in Texas,” Beau Miller said. He also posted a response to the bill on Facebook.

Miller’s bill is the counterpoint to Sen. Jose Rodriguez’s statewide non-discrimination bill that was also filed last week. It’s a more limited approach than Sen. Don Huffines’ bill to outlaw cities, which makes it more dangerous. I imagine family gatherings at the Miller house will be a bit more awkward now, and that’s a good thing. Rep. Miller should feel bad about this. It’s an appropriate response for when one does something offensive and wrong and gets called out on it.

As we know, strangling local control has been a running theme this session, with Greg Abbott and the Republican legislature deciding that they are the only valid authority in Texas. Thankfully, there is finally starting to be some organized pushback on this.

Local Control Texas — composed of Central Texas environmentalists, workers’ rights groups and Republicans from rural areas and small cities — might be the one thing stopping a governor-inspired effort at the Capitol to target some local ordinances.

Already, Local Control Texas has had some success, getting out-of-the-way towns like Montgomery — 50 miles north of Houston — to pass or consider resolutions that call some of the proposed legislation an overreach. The effort seeks to broaden opposition beyond major cities like Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, which have passed some of the local ordinances Abbott wants to pull back.

“What looks weird to some looks like home to others who create software and startups and street art,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler told the American-Statesman in January as he sought to defend the local rules following Abbott’s swipe.

“We ask that you refrain from hindering local governments’ abilities to serve the interests of their residents,” the group’s founders have written in an open letter to state leaders and lawmakers that is posted on the group’s website, localcontroltexas.org.

The signees of that letter include Darren Hodges, Fort Stockton’s Mayor Pro Tem who also identifies himself as a tea partier; Lanham Lyne, a former Republican state representative and mayor from Wichita Falls who runs an oil and gas exploration business; the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance; the Workers Defense Project; and the Texas Campaign for the Environment.

“Austin is a bit hypocritical, complaining to Washington, D.C., and then going around and telling local communities what to do,” Hodges, who has championed a plastic-bag ban in Fort Stockton, told the American-Statesman.

Karen Darcy, a member of the North Shore Republican Women, which meets by Lake Conroe, north of Houston, says she’s called her state representative and state senator — both Republicans — to ask them to fight proposals that threaten local control.

“If the majority at a local level have a problem with something, it’s up to that jurisdiction to decide what’s best for its citizens,” she said.

The Local Control Texas website is here if you want to check it out. Their efforts are badly needed, and I definitely appreciate the Republican participation on it, since this message needs to be bipartisan. What also needs to happen is for these same Republicans to be prepared to vote against at least some of the politicians that are doing this to their cities and counties. They can pick their spots as needed, but as with many other things, until someone actually loses an election as a result of being on the wrong side of an issue like this, there won’t be any incentive to be on the right side. Consequences can be quite motivating, if they exist.

Plastic bag bans work

Someone tell Greg Abbott.

plastic-bag

Shortly before being sworn in as governor, Greg Abbott called for doing away with local bans on plastic bags, fracking and tree-cutting that he says amount to a “patchwork quilt of bans and rules and regulations that is eroding the Texas model.”

Austin has bans on plastic bags and one of the state’s most involved tree removal ordinances. Apart from the political question of whether local-control-minded Republican lawmakers have the stomach to overturn local ordinances, there lingers a more practical matter: Have such rules been effective?

The short answer: looks like they are.

The data on Austin’s bag ban is scant — Austin Resource Recovery has only now commissioned a study of the effect of the ban, but anecdotal evidence from groups that track trash around town suggest it has had an impact.

“In my own community, around Bartholomew Park (in Northeast Austin), we always had an enormous amount of plastic bags that would gather,” said Rodney Ahart, executive director of Keep Austin Beautiful, which educates consumers about reusing plastic bags but didn’t take an official position on the ban. “Now you don’t see the plastic bags anymore.”

No retailers have been penalized or fined, said Emlea Chanslor, a spokeswoman for Austin Resource Recovery.

Fewer than 1 percent of H-E-B’s customers buy $1 emergency plastic bags at the checkout, according to the grocery store chain’s spokeswoman Leslie Sweet, suggesting the ordinance has had the intended effect of getting customers to reuse their bags.

[…]

Darren Hodges, a City Council member in the West Texas town of Fort Stockton, which has adopted a plastic bag ban of its own, had this to say in recent American-Statesman opinion piece: “I don’t know when the new governor was last in Fort Stockton, but it is certainly not becoming like California.”

You’ll have to forgive Greg Abbott; he doesn’t get out much. I don’t know if much will come of his stated intent to crush local control – it wasn’t part of his State of the State address – but I continue to marvel at the fetishization of state government over any other form. I have to think there’s some potential to turn the kind of anti-federal rhetoric that Abbott at al love to use against them, as they do (or try to do) to cities what they claim Washington does to Texas. Maybe not that much, I don’t know. But I feel like the more people see stuff like this as successful, the more open they’ll be to an argument that trying to shut it down isn’t right. It’s a start.

Austin may accelerate its bag ban schedule

They’re considering their options.

The City of Austin might ban the thin plastic and paper bags offered at checkout counters beginning in March 2013 a year earlier than expected and scrap plans to require retailers to charge a fee for such bags in the meantime.

Austin Resource Recovery , the city’s trash and recycling department, has written several drafts of the ban, most recently proposing that retailers charge a fee of 10 cents per single-use bag or $1 per transaction starting in March 2013 before the ban took effect in March 2014 .

But on Thursday, Austin Resource Recovery Director Bob Gedert told the City Council that he now thinks skipping the interim fee and enacting the ban sooner would simplify things and prevent disputes between customers and cashiers over how many free, disposable bags the customer needs.

The council is slated to hold a public hearing and vote on the ban March 1. After hearing Gedert’s presentation Thursday, a few council members questioned whether the ban should apply to paper bags as well as plastic.

Under the proposed ban, retailers could offer only reusable bags, defined as those made of cloth or durable materials, or thicker paper and plastic bags that have handles.

The city of Pecos recently gave preliminary approval to a ban of its own, while the city of Midland will discuss the idea in March. Other cities – Brownsville, South Padre Island, Fort Stockton – have adopted similar bans, with varying approaches that include charging fees for single use bags, requring plastic bags to be compostable, and so forth. I don’t know that there’s a single right answer, and it may well be that some combination of requirements will work best. There’s a lot of experimentation going on, so hopefully we’ll learn more. And hopefully the city of Houston will eventually get on this bandwagon. There’s a lot of good we could do by pursuing this.

Austin to propose ban on plastic bags

Good for them.

The City Council will vote Aug. 4 on a resolution from [Mayor Lee] Leffingwell and Council Members Mike Martinez and Chris Riley that would direct staff members to propose a scope for the ban and a timetable for phasing it in. Staff members would have to present a plan to the council in November.

City staffers will work with retailers and other stakeholders to write that plan, the mayor said.

Details such as whether small retailers should be exempt, what penalties retailers could face for not complying and when the ban should take effect will be worked out over the next four months, he said.

“I’m sure many retailers have a lot of plastic bags on hand or (long-term) contracts with bag companies. We want to take those things into consideration,” Leffingwell said. “Our goal will be to develop a reasonable ordinance that doesn’t cause hardship. It would be a hardship to enact a ban immediately.”

Leffingwell said he thinks paper bags should still be an option at checkout counters because they’re included in Austin’s curbside collection program for recyclables and they don’t gum up recycling machinery as plastic bags do.

But he said retailers may want or need to charge a fee of a few cents per paper bag to compel customers to get in the habit of bringing canvas or reusable bags.

The mayor said he would prefer that compostable plastic bags not be allowed because they can be tough to distinguish from other plastic bags, which might make a ban difficult to enforce.

Leffingwell said he expects there will be exceptions to the ban, such as allowing grocery stores to put fish and meat products in plastic bags at checkout counters.

Only a handful of other U.S. cities have enacted bans on plastic bags, including Brownsville, San Francisco and Portland, Ore., which passed a ban last week.

Besides Brownsville, South Padre Island has banned plastic bags, while Fort Stockton has a ban that will take effect in September. The Lege had a couple of bills proposed that would have preempted these local ordinances, but neither got a vote in either chamber. Austin had tried to ban plastic bags in 2008 but settled instead for a voluntary program that aimed at reducing their usage by 50%; Leffingwell says that only a 20% reduction was achieved. I’ll be interested to see what they come up with. I hope it succeeds and becomes a model for other Texas cities to follow. More from Mayor Leffingwell is on BOR.

Can we take a step forward without also taking one back?

From last week’s Texas Tribune on the subject of plastic bag recycling.

On Tuesday the Senate’s Committee on Natural Resources heard testimony on a bill sponsored by the committee’s chairman, state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, that would require large retailers like Wal-Mart to have well-labeled bag recycling canisters in their stores. This afternoon the House’s Environmental Regulations committee heard testimony on a similar bill, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Hancock, R-Fort Worth.

“It encourages more eco-friendly behaviors,” said Hancock, who said that plastic bags cannot be recycled at curbside. It was a “free market-based solution,” he emphasized, that would result in more bags being recycled and made into items like benches or flower pots.

Environmental groups, however, oppose the bills because a clause at the end of both would “preempt” local rules that are in conflict with the bill. They fear this would prevent cities from banning the bags outright. Already, Brownsville has instituted a plastic bag ban, which took effect in January, and two other locations — Fort Stockton and South Padre Island — have approved bag bans that will come into effect in the coming months.

“We shouldn’t tie the hands of local communities trying to reduce solid waste,” said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, in an email. Metzger did not testify but opposes the bill.

Fraser said that the bill aimed to bring a “transition” period for plastic bags. “We’ve got plastic bags in the system and we’re moving toward trying to eliminate them,” he said.

But Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, noted that there was “nothing in this bill that eliminates plastic bags in the waste stream,” and he feared that cities wanting to ban bags would be preempted from doing so under the bill’s language. Fraser said the three cities with bag bans would not be preempted, but it appeared that other cities that moved to ban bags in the future would be preempted.

Large retail groups like Wal-Mart and the Texas Restaurant Association back the bill, and several bag manufacturers also testified in favor.

I’ve noted the Brownsville and South Padre bag-banning efforts; Fort Stockton was news to me. Fraser’s bill is SB908; it was approved by the committee and is on the intent calendar for tomorrow. Hancock’s bill is HB1913; it’s still in committee. While there are times when it makes sense for the state to establish a single standard for something and in doing so override what cities have done, this isn’t one of those times. I’m confident that this provision is in there to get support from those large business interests. I’d prefer the Lege take no action at this time than take a step to prevent other cities from following Brownsville or South Padre or Fort Stockton’s example. Let’s let there be some experimentation to see what works best, and let’s leave some flexibility in place for the future rather than impose a one-size-fits-all solution. We should have bag recycling dropoffs at these locations, but we should be allowed to have more than that if we want it as well.