Texas Supreme Court: Houston Has To Change Ballot Language On Equal Rights Ordinance Referendum

The state’s high court says the current language violates Houston’s own charter.


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When voters head to the polls in November, they will vote for or against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, also known as HERO.

They will not vote on whether or not it should be repealed. That was the ballot language the City Council had approved two weeks ago.

Andy Taylor represents the No Unequal Rights Coalition, which opposes the ordinance. He had filed the lawsuit to force the city to change the language.

He claims the reason why Mayor Annise Parker’s administration wrote it so that “yes” is a vote for repealing the law, is that the majority of Houstonians oppose the ordinance.

“What she was worried about is that there would be more than 50 percent of the people who come to vote on November 3 and they would vote ‘no,’” Taylor said. “And so she tried to hijack the election by turning ‘yes’ into ‘no’ and ‘no’ into ‘yes.’”

There have been no independent polls on how Houstonians feel about the ordinance.

In the same ruling, the Supreme Court declined to prohibit the city from using the term “Houston Equal Rights Ordinance” in the referendum.

Meanwhile at City Hall, council members C.O. Bradford and Michael Kubosh expressed their anger in how things have gone with the equal rights ordinance.  Both voted against the ballot language.

“The Texas Supreme Court issued the third mandamus directed to the Houston City Council in 45 days,” Bradford said. “I tried my damnest to save the mayor and Houston City Council members from this utter embarrassment.”

In its ruling, the court says the current ballot language violates the City Charter.

Bradford voted for the ordinance when the council first passed it last year, but he says now it’s about following the law.

Kubosh says this should all have been resolved a year ago when HERO opponents turned in their repeal petition. The city rejected it, which led to multiple legal challenges.

“And now we have all this expenditure and legal fees and it’s unnecessary. The citizens should be outraged that we’re having to be spanked again by the Supreme Court of the state of Texas.”

In a statement, Mayor Parker said, “it is clear that politics is driving the law in this case.  We will rewrite the ballot language, but I strongly disagree with the decision and find it to be contrary to the court’s established law regarding previous ballot initiatives.

She also expressed confidence that Houstonians will vote for the equal rights ordinance, “despite the continued backdoor legal maneuvers and manipulation by a small group that is out of touch.”

Bradford is proposing the language that the City Council voted on when it passed the ordinance last year:

“Shall the City of Houston enact ordinance No. 2014-530, an ordinance amending chapters 2, 15 and 17 of the code of ordinances, Houston, Texas, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics in city employment, city services, city contracting practices, housing, public accommodations, and private employment; containing findings and other provisions relating to the foregoing subject; declaring certain conduct unlawful; providing for a penalty; providing for severability; and declaring an emergency?”

The City Council has to vote on the ballot language by next week.


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