5 Surprisingly Progressive Things the Dallas City Council Has Done in the Last 5 Years

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Slowly but surely, ever since 2004's Democratic electoral wipeout, Dallas County has been getting bluer and bluer. Since 2006, only one Republican, frequent party switcher Susan Hawk, has been elected to countywide office.

The county that voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 pivoted to overwhelmingly supporting Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the last three presidential elections. Dallas is a Democratic county now, so much so that a previously untouchable politician like U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions is facing a potential reckoning as a strong field of Democratic primary candidates battle it out to face him in November.

As Dallas County has become a no-go zone for the GOP outside of the Park Cities, the officially nonpartisan Dallas City Council has lurched to the left as well. Since the 2013 council election, when Adam Medrano and Philip Kingston joined Scott Griggs — first elected in 2011 — to form a progressive caucus around the horseshoe, the council has passed a series of reforms and policies that would've been unlikely, if not impossible, under previous city regimes. Here are five of the most important:

1. The Dallas City Council passes cite-and-release.
In April, Dallas took a major step for criminal justice reform when the council, led by Kingston and former District 7 council member Tiffinni Young, passed cite-and-release for marijuana possession. Under the new policy, which went into effect Dec. 1, someone busted with 4 ounces or less of pot is eligible to receive a citation and court date, rather than spend a night in jail.

The policy isn't perfect — those cited and released are still subject to the same penalties as people arrested for the same crime — but it allows those who might otherwise lose their jobs or face other crises a fighting chance to keep their lives in order ahead of their court dates.

2. Dallas construction workers get a break.
Fed up with reports of heat-exhausted construction workers in the city, Dallas workers rights groups and City Council members pushed for a city ordinance requiring construction workers in the city be given one 10-minute break for every four hours they work.

For months, the measure seemed stuck in City Hall limbo, but the council passed it in December 2015, over the objections of Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and North Dallas council member Lee Klienman. 

3. City contract workers get a "living wage."
"The time is always right to do the right thing," normally conservative Dallas City Council member Rickey Callahan said in November 2015, urging his colleagues to build a wage floor of $10.37 into the city's contract bidding process. Previously, several companies providing contract services like garbage collection to the city paid their workers as little as $7.25 an hour. Now, companies hoping to win a city contract are required to pay all workers a living wage, as calculated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

4. Dallas ends ban on two-time felons serving on city boards and commissions.
The City Council lifted a longstanding ban Wednesday on people with more than a single felony conviction serving on city boards and commissions. The council's decision, made with a 14-1 vote, came after Marlon Rollins lost his seat on the Dallas Park Board when The Dallas Morning News dug up two decades-old felony convictions from Rollins' youth.

"We cannot continue to penalize people who've served their time," council member Kevin Felder said. "They've gone to prison, paid their debt to society. In the state of Texas, when you've paid your debt to society and you're no longer on parole or probation, you have the right to vote. I think we should mirror that."

5. Dallas stands up for its transgender residents.
After the defeat of Houston's nondiscrimination ordinance at the polls in 2015, the City Council decided to shore up its own LGBTQ protections, explicitly writing transgender Dallas residents into the city's existing nondiscrimination ordinance.

State Sen. Don Huffines threw a fit over the council's move, calling it "the same type of sneak-attack governance used by Obama and Pelosi," but the council stood firm. In the face of a state government increasingly hostile toward minorities, Dallas maintains one of Texas' strongest nondiscrimination ordinances.

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