Naked City

Beyond City Limits

Gay rights advocates scored a precedent-setting victory this week with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to hear a challenge to the age-old Texas sodomy law. Attorneys from the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund will present oral arguments this spring outlining how the Texas law does not apply equally to all people and violates Constitutional rights to privacy. Nine states ban sodomy between anyone, but Texas, along with Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kansas, forbids it only between members of the same sex. The Supremes ruled 5-4 in 1986 to uphold Georgia's sodomy law (later struck down in state court) but has largely avoided gay-rights issues since then. Lambda Legal has represented Houston residents John Lawrence and Tyron Garner since their 1998 arrest; police officers, responding to a false report, burst into Lawrence's apartment and found the pair engaged in sex. The pair, now "sex offenders," were convicted and fined. -- Amy Smith

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram is unlikely to be popular reading in the offices of new state House Speaker Tom Craddick , R-Midland. A couple of weeks ago, the Startlegram's R.A. Dyer broke the story about the involvement of Craddick and his lobbyist daughter Christi in sweetheart legislation to help Midland private utility Cap Rock Energy. This week, Dyer and his colleague Jay Root reported that in 1997, the Lege -- apparently at Craddick's request-- passed a bill to allow the grown children of legislators -- like Christi -- to be covered indefinitely by state health insurance. Craddick spokesman Bill Miller vociferously denied the report. According to the Dec. 3 story, Texas Employees Retirement System Executive Director Sheila Beckett was told by the Texas Legislative Council that, at the request of Craddick, it was drafting an amendment to the ERS law. "I was assuming he was concerned about the continuing insurance coverage for his daughter," Beckett said. Christi Craddick was 26 years old at the time, and her coverage would have expired two years later. The 88 people in the state who receive the coverage pay the full premium of about $300 per month. Speaking for Rep. Craddick, Miller told the paper Beckett's recollection is "inaccurate and false," adding, "we had nothing to do with any legislation of any kind. ERS told her that she could [re-enroll], and she did. And she's been paying her premiums ever since." -- Michael King

Taking the latest step in its campaign to transform the air we breathe, the Bush Administration decided Nov. 27 to allow Mexican trucks to pass beyond commercial border zones -- ending a 20-year ban of the trucks from U.S. highways. The administration cites the North American Free Trade Agreement, which requires the U.S. to let the trucks in. But environmental, public interest, and labor groups have filed for an emergency injunction to roll back the decision, which transportation officials say could put the trucks on U.S. roads by the end of the year. (At press time, the federal appeals court in San Francisco was awaiting the government's response.) The regulations have been on hold since last May, after a coalition led by Public Citizen, the Environmental Law Foundation, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters filed suit in federal court to force the government to comply with the Clean Air Act and other rules. Despite the recent administration announcement, a decision in that case is still pending. -- Laurie Apple

The Texas Bicycle Coalition Education Fund recently received two competitive grants to promote cycling in the Great State of Concrete. Funds from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will enable the TBCEF to evaluate its SuperCyclist curriculum, which brings bicycle safety education to elementary school students. And the Texas Dept. of Transportation has awarded its only statewide traffic safety bicycle grant to TBCEF for the SuperCollege Project, an attempt to introduce the SuperCyclist program to student teachers in universities. -- L.A.

Another roll of the dice: State Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, has again filed legislation to allow Texas' three Indian tribes to operate casinos in their sovereign territory. Earlier this year, the Tigua Indians' Speaking Rock casino in El Paso was shut down after then-Texas Attorney General (now U.S. Senator) John Cornyn prevailed in a federal lawsuit declaring the operation illegal. A similar bill by Keel and other reps passed the Texas House last session, but died in the Senate. -- Lee Nichols

No more sugar in Sugar Land: Imperial Sugar Co. is closing its refinery in the Houston suburb after 160 years and cutting more than 300 jobs. (The company, which sells about 25% of America's sugar, will remain headquartered there.) This makes U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay Sugar Land's most viable export; Naked City envisions a name-change to Bug Man Land. -- Mike Clark-Madison

Speaking of DeLay, the conservative-student journal Houston Review is in a full-throated dudgeon over the Houston Chronicle's support of the "vast light-rail conspiracy." Seems the Chron inadvertently posted to its Web site an anonymous internal memo calling for coverage to focus from now until next November (when Houstonians will likely vote on expanding the under-construction MetroRail system) on "continuing our long-standing efforts to make rail a permanent part of the transit mix here." The memo also proposes a package of stories critical of DeLay, who singlehandedly killed federal funds for MetroRail, and of former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier. The Review bemoans the poor Bug Man's rough treatment at the daily's hands and calls the memo "an announcement that the Chronicle has no intention of being fair and objective." In other words, exactly like the Review -- which goes on to recite familiar ideological anti-transit propaganda (including quotes from hired-gun "expert" Wendell Cox). Naked City thinks the memo announces something else: (1) One scribe's opinion, with no sign of acceptance from the paper in toto; and (2) Some good investigative journalism that we'd be frankly surprised to see in what the inmates call the Chronk. -- M.C.M.

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