Friday, April 10, 2015

Mayor erred on proposed resolution | Last Word

A story in the Houston Chronicle this week offered powerful evidence that Mayor Ivy Taylor is correct on one of the most contentious issues in the mayor’s race.

The story is about Uber driver Duncan Burton, who sits in the Harris County jail accused of raping one of his passengers.

It also points to an error she made.

Burton says the woman was so drunk that she couldn’t tell him where she lived.

So he took her to his house where, he says, they had consensual sex.

The woman agreed that she had been drunk, but was surprised to wake up in a strange bed and had no memory of agreeing to have sex.

Burton’s story has a problem of internal logic.

Only in bad fraternity houses is a woman who is too drunk to give her home address considered able to consent to sex.

 But here’s the part of the story that relates to San Antonio’s mayor’s race.

Taylor’s opponents are taking every opportunity to criticize her for supporting an ordinance that impelled Uber to leave San Antonio.

At a Trinity University forum this week, Taylor responded that the reason Uber said it was leaving was that the revised ordinance required Uber drivers to undergo a police department background check within two weeks of starting as drivers.

This is in addition to Uber’s own criminal background check.

She noted that Uber had agreed to a Houston ordinance with a similar requirement.

Duncan Burton makes her argument.

Uber’s background check on him missed the fact that he spent 14 years in federal prison on a felony drug charge, getting out just three years ago.

Uber’s internet search is designed to look for convictions going back only six years, except for sex crimes, according to the Chronicle.

Since November, Uber drivers in Houston have been required to obtain a permit from the city.

Its background check would have uncovered his felony drug conviction and he would have been denied the permit.

But Burton was one of an unknown number of Uber drivers in Houston who haven’t obtained their permits.

So Mayor Taylor is right.

Having a police background check in addition to Uber’s is perfectly reasonable.

So how does Duncan Burton point to an error by Taylor?

While Burton sat in the Houston jail this week, in Austin the House Committee on Transportation was considering a bill that would have the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles issue driver permits for companies like Uber.

Cities would not be able to do their own background checks of drivers.

What’s more, the background check required by the state would not have prohibited Burton from obtaining a permit.

The bill looks like Uber wrote it.

Maybe they did. 

The multi-billion-dollar company that so many romanticize has hired at least 23 lobbyists at a cost of up to $700,000 to work this session of the Legislature.

What does that have to do with Ivy Taylor?

This bill is only one of many that seek to cut back the power of cities to determine their own policies.

As reported by Express-News Columnist Brian Chasnoff, Councilman Rey Saldana nearly a month ago got four other council members to sign a memo asking for a clear resolution from the council to the Legislature opposing those bills.

He asked for the measure to be put on council agenda quickly, since the Legislative train is rolling down the tracks.

Taylor could have asked the city manager to put the resolution on the next council agenda, but instead she assigned it to a committee.

Apparently she felt she was following an ordinance that requires items “that set general, citywide policy” to go to a committee.

But this resolution set no new policy.

It was designed simply to amplify to the Legislature what was already set by council in its legislative agenda for this year.

Taylor indicated to Chasnoff that she had a problem with the memo in that it specified a number of city ordinances under attack that “were controversial” – obviously including the non-discrimination ordinance that she voted against.

That concern could have been debated by the full city council, not sent off for a lengthy committee process.

Taylor said she was “firmly” for local control.

If so, she shouldn’t be delaying the council’s message to the Legislature.

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