Petitions serve as a way for citizens to effect change without waiting for their representatives to act. In a city like Houston, where most of the power is in the mayor’s hands, they are even more important. If the mayor ignores an issue that residents in an area find problematic, other than a petition they have little recourse.
In the past, Houstonians have used petitioning power to pass a revenue cap and a property tax cap, and to allow for off-premises alcohol consumption in a dry part of town, to name a few.
With Houston’s somewhat recent term length and limit change, there are no candidates on the ballot this November. But if some Houstonians have their way, there will be a number of petition-driven ballot initiatives to vote on. These petitions represent some of the efforts that have gained popularity and could land on the ballot in November.
Last year, residents in a section of Houston Heights petitioned for repeal of a rule that prohibited alcohol sales for off-premises consumption. The small part of town had historically been dry, but through loopholes and workarounds, “private clubs” or bars that required an ID to be a “member” opened and allowed on-premises alcohol consumption. After a push that involved support from grocery giant H-E-B, the Houston Heights Beverage Coalition was able to successfully petition and pass a proposal that allowed the sale of beer and wine for consumption off-premises.
Since that effort did not include restaurants and bars, a group is seeking to further ease the dry rule by allowing them to sell alcohol without the private club workaround. For the petition to be eligible, the group needs roughly 1,500 signatures from residents within the zone.
The other proposals are more dry, no pun intended.
After the long-fought pension battle and a legal loss when they attempted to block the plan from going into effect, the Houston Professional Firefighters Association has kicked off a petition effort to have a vote on pay parity between their department and the Houston police.
“As of today, Houston firefighter pay lags Houston police pay, on a rank-by-rank basis, by an average of about 60 percent,” read the post announcing the petition effort. Although their petition has yet to be delivered to the city secretary, they are collecting signatures and have created a website to inform voters about the issue.
Pointing to the fact that their pay has only increased a mere three percent since 2011, compared to the police department’s 26 percent, HPFA is hoping to get the item on the ballot to “protect Houston firefighters and their families from City Hall politics.” They’ll need 20,000 valid City of Houston signatures to ensure ballot placement in November.
There is also a petition to ask voters to shift all future public employee pension plans to defined contribution.
Megaphone PAC started collecting signatures back in February and submitted the petition to the city in April, shortly before the end of session and final passage of the Houston pension reform bill. It would require all public employees hired after 2018 to be placed on a defined contribution plan rather than the standard defined benefit plan in effect today.
This petition seems to have a good chance of survival, as the group submitted 35,000 signatures – 15,000 more than required. The City Secretary has yet to publicly acknowledge whether they have been validated or not.
While there aren’t any City of Houston candidates vying for votes this election cycle, these petitions along with the Mayor’s six bond referendums will give voters a lot to focus on.