News from Houston, Harris County & Bellaire
Bellaire citymanager proposes restructuring city
Houston City Council Watch online at houstontx.swagit.com/live Next meetings: May 8, 15, 22 and 29 at 9 a.m. Harris County Commissioners Court Watch online at harriscountytx.gov Next meetings: May 12 and 26 at 10 a.m. Bellaire City Council Watch online at bellairetx.gov Next meetings: May 18 and June 1 at 7 p.m. MEETINGSWE COVER April 22 Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued an order requiring residents to wear masks in public through May 26. Gov. Greg Abbott said the order could not be enforced with a fine. April 22 Houston announced a pledge to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions and become carbon neutral by 2050. April 23 A public awareness campaign dedicated to helping Houston residents facing domestic violence was established. Sign up to receive these and other news items in our daily newsletter at www.communityimpact.com/ newsletter. Houston City Council and Harris County have approved millions of dollars’ worth of spending on coronavirus prevention and response measures. Most of the expenses are reimbursable with federal funding. Below are some of the most significant expenditures to date. HOUSTON $4million for personal protective equipment and face masks for first responders $360,000 for hotel room quarantine sites $64,000 for hand sanitizer HARRIS COUNTY $17million for emergency medical shelter at NRG stadium, out of $60 million authorized April 11 HIGHLIGHTS April 21 Houston launched a partnership with the Houston Food Bank items to deliver food to people with disabilities. Requests can be filed at www.houstontx.gov or by calling 832-394-0814.
BY HUNTER MARROW
Federal judge denies release of up to 4,000 inmates 2020-21 reorganization plan, should it be implemented wholly as presented, would not be effective until FY 2020- 21 begins Oct. 1. Hoffman asked for council’s feedback on the plan. The city of Bellaire is in the process of developing the second-quarter financial report for fiscal year 2019-20 and will include a worst-case sce- nario of how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the current fiscal year’s budgeted expenses and revenue, which was slated to be presented to council May 4. Meanwhile, the city manager’s FY
have on city finances. “The pandemic’s impact on general fund revenues could be significant,” City Manager Paul Hoffman wrote in his report to the council. “We can reasonably anticipate that most Bellaire businesses will rebound once the current restrictions are lifted, and that impacts on sales tax revenues are short-lived. However, and as many council members said on April 6th, the longer-term impact of the pandemic, and lowered oil prices, may be to reduce permitting activity, the property tax collection rate and property values.”
BELLAIRE Citing an “uncertain fiscal future,” Bellaire’s city manager proposed combining the public works and development services depart- ments and reorganizing functions between the finance and human resources departments, moves he said could save $250,000 annually. The city manager unveiled the plan during City Council’s April 20 meeting, held via teleconference, and came as a result of a previous discussion from the council on April 6 based on the COVID-19 pandemic and the trickle-down effect it could to
Houston becomes secondU.S. city to adopt anti-human trafficking requirement for hotels
BY EMMA WHALEN
The program will cost the city $40,611 upfront and $12,750 annually to pay for a portion of the salary for a Houston Administration for Regu- latory Affairs employee tasked with enforcement. Under the ordinance, operators will be fined $100 for failing to train employees, failing to hang signage about trafficking and ways to report it, and failure to turn over training records to the city within 72 hours of a request. Second offenses would carry a $500 fine, and, in certain cir- cumstances, citations can be reissued daily, according to the ordinance. It also prohibits retaliation against employees who report tips. Justin Bragel, general counsel for the Texas Hospitality and Lodging Association, said the association is in support of the ordinance and its ability to enforce the same standards across hotel and motel operators in Houston. “This will be broader and hopefully wider in terms of the hotels that will come into the scope of the ordi- nance,” Bragel said. 277,000 total advertisements for illegal commercial sex were identified in Houston between May 1, 2019, and Feb. 13, 2020. NUMBER TOKNOW
HOUSTON Hotel and motel oper- ators within the city of Houston are now required to train all employees how to spot and report signs of human trafficking. Houston City Council authorized the new ordi- nance April 15. After over four years of nego- tiations between hotel operator representatives, the city received their support, including the Small Independent Motel Owners Asso- ciation and the local branch of the American Hospitality and Lodging Association. Although negotiating with these organizations slowed the process, the mayor’s special adviser for human trafficking, Minal Patel Davis, said it helped the city gain insight into operations and secure votes from City Council members. While some hotels already offer this training, by setting minimum standards, including ensuring trainings are not skipped, and creating fines for noncompliance, the ordinance allows the city to better track training throughout the city, Patel Davis said. “[Administration and Regulatory Affairs] is saying this is a good train- ing, this is a good sign, this is a good number to call, and this is the right way to record this. That third-party check is extremely important,” Patel Davis said.
BY SHAWN ARRAJJ
HARRIS COUNTY As the number of positive coronavirus cases among both Harris County Jail inmates and employees continues to climb, U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal rejected a petition April 14 for the emergency release of up to 4,000 inmates. In her ruling, Rosenthal wrote it would be risky for a federal district court to “wade into policy and political disagreements among state and county elected officials.” She also argued the plaintiffs failed to prove the emergency release would be in the public interest. The motion—filed by plaintiffs in Russell v. Harris County, a lawsuit regarding felony bail practices— asked for a 14-day emergency order from Rosenthal in light of the coronavirus that would require Harris County not to enforce pretrial detention orders for felony detainees who were being held because they could not afford bail. The decision came after a month of legal battles over the county’s authority to release inmates. As of April 15, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office reported 85 jail employees and 68 inmates had tested positive for the coronavirus.
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