The future of Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance – whether it will be sent to a public vote or finally enacted – rests with a few thousand signatures gathered by elderly people with shaky hands.
Those details emerged on Thursday during a closed-door hearing as a judge and both sides in a lawsuit over the petition signatures rejected by the city continue to count the signatures and squabble over the differences.
The tally? The opponents who sued over the petition being rejected – and want to force a public vote on HERO – are about 3,000 signatures shy, though 8,500 additional signatures are still in limbo.
For the past month, attorneys on both sides have been counting signatures using the judge's rulings. As expected, they have come to different conclusions; the city contends the opponents again failed, while opponents say they have plenty more valid signatures than they need.
But attorneys on both sides agree that the legibility of circulator signatures on certain pages, affecting 8,500 total signatures, will now decide the case.
A jury reached a mixed verdict last month in a trial. HERO opponents sued after Mayor Annise Parker and the city ruled thousands of signatures invalid and tossed out the petition in August. Expecting a court challenge, Parker put HERO on hold until the lawsuit is resolved.
What might make the difference as the signature counting continues? Shaky hands.
Taylor has also submitted affidavits from several elderly people whose signatures were considered illegible. The affidavits claim the circulators, well into their 70s and 80s, have hand tremors, and that they signed the pages and legally collected signatures.
“Even my 9-year-old can read most of these signatures the city and the mayor claim they can't read,” Taylor said.
A ruling from Judge Robert Schaffer could come as soon as early April. Parker said earlier this month that she'll win on HERO before she leaves office at the end of the year.