Opponents of Houston’s new non-discrimination ordinance did not get enough valid signatures to force a November repeal referendum, Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman announced Monday.
“With respect to the referendum petition filed to repeal the ‘HERO’ ordinance, there are simply too many documents with irregularities and problems to overlook,” Feldman said. “The petition is simply invalid. There is no other conclusion.”
The council approved the ordinance on an 11-6 vote in May. Opponents who took issue with the protections extended to gay and transgender people under the ordinance promised to send the issue to the voters. On July 3, they claimed to have delivered more than 50,000 signatures to the city secretary’s office.
Opponents needed a minimum of 17,269 valid signatures – 10 percent of the ballots cast in the last mayoral election – to put a referendum on the November ballot. Feldman said some of the petition gatherers did not satisfy the requirements set out for such petitions in the city charter, such as by not being registered Houston voters or by not signing the petition themselves. If such requirements were not met, he said, all the signatures the circulator gathered were invalid.
Less than half of the more than 5,000 pages opponents submitted were valid, Feldman said, leaving the final valid tally at 15,249 signatures.
Dave Welch of the Houston Area Pastor Council helped lead the repeal petition effort. He pledged to fight the Parker’s decision in court.
“We were well aware we were dealing with an administration that’s willing to bend the rules,” Welch said. “Courts typically uphold the rights of the voters. We feel very confident in how that will go. Frankly, there was no respect for the rights of the voters in this process.”
The mayor declined to detail her personal feelings on the outcome, instead pointing to the inevitable court fight ahead.
“It is what it is,” she said. “As I’ve said throughout this process, I fully expected there would be legal pressure from one side or the other, however the issue came out. I fully expected it to end up on a ballot, and we would win. If it does not wind up on a ballot, it saves the city a significant amount of money and effort mounting a legal campaign, in addition to the community’s efforts on both sides to wage that campaign.”