Austin Mayor Creates Anti-Racism Task Force

Our daily roundup of Texas headlines.

By Becky FogelNovember 17, 2016 10:54 am

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler has put together a task force to combat institutional racism. 

“It does not mean that we are racist here in Austin or that we have a racist society,” Adler said. But what it does mean is that we have structures in place that create unjust and inequitable outcomes.” 

Members of the taskforce include local community leaders in fields like education, immigration, and housing. Huston-Tillotson University President Collette Pierce Burnette is part of the effort.

She told KUT in Austin that some people were initially skeptical:

“When I was making some of the phone calls asking people would they be engaged, would they be willing to do this work on behalf of the Mayor, I did receive responses such that, ‘How is this going to be different?” she says. 

The task force will present recommendations on how to dismantle institutional racism to the mayor and city council in March.

And in other mayoral news, Houston Mayor Sylvester has reached a truce with Uber – for now. Al Ortiz with Houston Public Media has more:

The Mayor says an agreement means the city would change the way it grants licenses to people who work for vehicle for hire companies, like Uber. 

The new process would be faster and more affordable because the cost of the licenses would go down from almost $200 to $70 and the city would also eliminate some steps from the licensing process.

“Physical examination, that is something that the city requires, we’ll leave to the companies themselves to do that, if they choose to do that, it won’t be a requirement by the city,” Turner explained at a press conference held after the Houston City Council’s meeting.

“If it’s something like drug testing, with the exception of reasonable suspicion,” Turner added “we’ll leave that to the companies.”

The mayor needs the Houston City Council to approve some changes to the city code that regulates the operations of vehicle for hire companies, which also include taxis and limousines, for the agreement to be implemented.

But, even if that happens, the agreement might not last long.

State Sen. Charles Schwertner is proposing in the Texas Legislature a statewide law to regulate companies like Uber.

The Mayor disagrees with that option, but the company is siding with the senator.

“I think, with transportation, it inherently crosses city and jurisdictional lines and, so, we are supportive of any consistent regulation, or regulatory framework, at the state level that improves reliability and certainty for drivers and riders across the state,” says Trevor Theunissen, a spokesman for Uber in Texas.

The mayor’s plan would maintain the kind of background checks the city currently requires.

Those checks are done using the FBI’s criminal database and Uber has a problem with that.

The company says that database is sometimes inaccurate because it is not appropriately updated and can unfairly prevent a person to get a license to work for them.

If the council approves the agreement drafted by Turner, Uber commits to stay in Houston through the Super Bowl but, after the big game, Theunissen says the company looks forward to “continuing conversations” with the city.

Tomorrow, the Texas State Board of Education takes a final vote on whether to approve a Mexican American Studies textbook critics and scholars have deemed racist and riddled with errors.

In a preliminary vote Wednesday, members voted 14-0 against the book.