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New York City Council Stated Meeting -- August 16, 2006

by Joshua Brustein, Aug 17, 2006
 Every two weeks the New York City Council meets for its Stated Meeting to introduce and pass legislation. As a regular feature, Gotham Gazette covers these meetings and posts a summary of the bills passed.

The City Council responded to several recent deaths at nightlife establishments at its latest stated meeting by passing a law that would tighten enforcement on unlicensed security guards.

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The unanimously-passed "Bouncer Control Act" (Intro 366-A) will make it a violation of the city's public nuisance law to hire a bouncer or security guard who lacks a state license. This is already illegal, but to date, only the State Liquor Authority has had the power to enforce these regulations. The authority has been criticized for not following through, and some also think it lacks the personnel to police the city's thousands of nightlife establishments effectively. The issue was brought into the spotlight when 24-year old Imette St. Guillen was raped and murdered after leaving the Falls, a bar in lower Manhattan. The bar's bouncer has been indicted for the crime.

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By making it against the law of the city to violate the state's law, the city has given itself the power of enforcement, as well.

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This law "is one piece of what is eventually going to be a larger … package of legislation designed to really make our nightlife establishments safe," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn, its primary sponsor. She has proposed several other bills that would require bars and nightclubs to use ID verification scanners and security cameras at their entrances, and further pursue businesses that hire unlicensed bouncers.

BANKRUPTCY AND CREDIT COUNSELING

The council also sought to address an issue arising from recent changes to federal bankruptcy law. The federal government now requires people declaring bankruptcy first to meet with credit counselors accredited by the federal government. If someone applies for bankruptcy without seeking counseling – or if their counseling comes from someone who isn't approved by the federal government – they are not allowed to reapply for one year.

The council unanimously passed a law (Intro 290-A) that would require unaccredited counselors to tell their clients. Councilmember James Gennaro, the bill's primary sponsor, said that the bill will not only keep people from violating the bankruptcy law, but will also serve as a quality control measure, warning people about "charlatans" looking to capitalize on their financial troubles.

"[People declaring bankruptcy] are desperate," he said. "They want to get out of their dire financial straits, maybe they have a little bit of equity in their home or whatever, and these unscrupulous entities are out there to try to extract whatever little bit of equity you have."

REZONING IN QUEENS

The council rezoned two areas of Western Queens. One is a 130-block area of Maspeth and Woodside, and marks the first time that inclusionary zoning will be used to develop low and moderate income housing in the borough. The zoning will allow developers to construct larger buildings if they agree to make 20 percent of the apartments affordable for a family of four making about $54,000 a year.

The council also cleared the way for the redevelopment of the Silvercup Studios on the Long Island City waterfront. The $1 billion project includes 3 million square feet of movie studios, retail, and residential development. The developer has agreed to include 150 low to moderate-income apartments. The project's backers say that it will create 4,000 permanent jobs. The tax credits created for the film industry last year, they add, are a major reason that the project is able to go forward.

Both zoning changes passed by votes of 49 to 0.

HELP AMERICA VOTE ACT

The council moved through its business with little debate or discussion. The one break in an otherwise quiet day came from a large group of onlookers seated in the balcony. They were there to show support for a resolution the council was voting on (Res 228-A) urging the Board of Elections to take various actions while implementing the Help America Vote Act. The group burst into loud, whooping applause whenever the resolution was mentioned, stopping only after being repeatedly reprimanded by the public advocate, the council speaker, and a frustrated-looking security guard.

The resolution recommends that the Board of Elections hold public hearings in each borough, analyze the costs required to implement electronic voting, hold mock elections to test the accuracy of vote counts, and make sure that protections against hacking are in place. It passed unanimously.

"There will be no hanky panky with regards to the voting machines in New York City," said Robert Jackson, the resolution's primary sponsor. "That's the bottom line."

The next Stated Meeting is scheduled for September 13, 2006.  




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