Mayor Annise Parker used her annual State of the City Address before the Greater Houston Partnership to announce that she will present a proposed Human Rights Ordinance to Houston City Council for approval in mid-May.
“The Houston I know is accepting, tolerant, diverse, inclusive,” said Mayor Parker. “We simply don’t care where you come from, the color of your skin, your age, gender, what physical limitations you may have or who you choose to love. Yet, Houston is the only major city in the nation without civil rights protections for its residents. It’s time to change that.”
The mayor’s timeline envisions presentation of the draft ordinance to public stakeholders and City Council committee on April 30, 2014 and placement on the council agenda for May 7, 2014. Although the exact language is still being finalized, the ordinance will prohibit discrimination in city employment and contracting, housing and public accommodations. This would include bars, restaurants, retail stores and businesses that provide services to the public. Complaints about violations of the ordinance would be reviewed by the City’s Office of Inspector General and a new seven member board known as the Human Rights Commission.
“A young African American should not be turned away from a club on Washington Avenue,” said Parker. “A returning veteran with a service dog should not be denied service at a local restaurant. An elderly woman should not be denied a job with the city. And, yes, a gay or transgendered individual should not be denied the same rights enjoyed by all other Houstonians. It’s long past time that we ensure equal protection for all of our residents.”
At least 185 cities and counties have some sort of non-discrimination laws in place. Mayor Parker called on attendees at the State of the City luncheon to join her in support of this landmark legislation.
The rest of the mayor’s annual address to Houston business leaders was built around the refrain of “we are doing it” and included a recap of accomplishments over the last four years and her plans for continued progress during her final term. The mayor noted that her tenure in office has included creation of an independent crime lab, major steps toward rebuilding infrastructure, growing the economy, creating a firm financial foundation, maintaining the lowest per capita crime rate in the city’s history, improving parks and cleaning up our neighborhoods.
She reiterated that she has no plans to slow down in the final two years. Besides the Human Rights Ordinance, she will continue work to solidify Houston’s reputation as a “green” city and finalize plans and a location for a botanical garden; put in place a cultural arts plan, general development plan and parks master plan; new regulations to ensure a fair market and user safety for new transportation operators, new regulations for food trucks and an end to chronic homelessness.
“It would be easy to coast in these last two years — to rest on our laurels,” said Parker. “But that’s not how I’m wired. We will not stop. We will not slow down. We will not rest because there is too much left to accomplish before my time as your mayor is finished.”