At each of the City Council's stated meetings, council members introduce bills.
Most of them never become laws, but some do. (For the process by which bills
become laws, click here). As a regular feature, Gotham Gazette discusses some
of the legislation proposed at each meeting.
Amid press reports about underpaid and overworked employees in the city’s
restaurants, Councilmembers Eric Gioia and Rosie Mendez introduced the
The measure, backed by the Brennan
Center Strategic Fund and the Restaurant
Opportunities Center of New York, would require establishments to comply with
labor laws in order to have their operating permits renewed. By enforcing minimum
wage and other labor laws, Bill 569 would combat the widespread cost-cutting
measures that many restaurants employ at the
expense of their staff.
The restaurant industry is the largest private sector employer in the state,
according to Carolyn D. Richmond, a lawyer for Heartland Brewery. And a
study by the Restaurant Opportunities Center found that the New York City restaurant
industry is expected to account for $13 billion in annual city revenue by 2010.
Counter to this growing wealth, however, is the often bleak reality for the industry’s thousands of workers. Violations of labor laws are widespread in New York City’s restaurants with 59 percent of employees reporting violations of laws governing overtime wages, 52 percent reporting a lack of workplace safety training, and 38 percent reported being burned on the job. Additionally, 73 percent of restaurant workers said they had no health coverage.
of lawsuits accuse restaurants of stealing tips from workers
and cheating on wages. State Labor Commissioner Patricia Smith said this is
because actors and immigrants who normally do not speak up for their rights
have become “emboldened” and are speaking up.
staff are among the restaurant workers leading the trend. For over
two months, they have been protesting outside of the Saigon Grill because of
firings and what they say are wages as low as $1.60 per hour. Earlier this
month students organized a sit-in at the restaurant, and then joined delivery
workers on the
The Restaurant Responsibility Act would elevate the importance of labor laws
by requiring disclosure of violations and would create opportunities for public
comment on the restaurants’ practices
as part of the permit process. The act would also add make the violation information
available online, as the city currently does with health
violations, and allow
the city to conduct hearings on permit renewals.
The government currently has the power to go after restaurants in violation of labor laws, but this act would established a clear mechanism, standards and penalties, according to Eric Lane of the Brennan Center.
Graffiti Wars (Continued)
Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. introduced legislation to set new limits on
materials used to make graffiti, such as aerosol paint, thick permanent markers
and etching acid. Aimed
at individuals under 25 years old, the law would require
written permission for those traveling with these materials for work or school,
or who are permitted to use the paints and markers on a particular surface
Vallone won passage of similar anti-graffiti legislation targeting 18 to 20
year olds last
year, but it was struck down by a federal court on first amendment
grounds. Mark Ecko, a designer and backer of the lawsuit, pressured Vallone
not to challenge the ruling. Vallone dropped the case but
introduced this measure. Ecko’s lawyer, Daniel Perez, said, however, that the new bill does not address the issues raised by the suit. “I'm almost speechless that he would even propose this to the council, and I hope he tells the council before he gets them to vote for it that this bill has already been struck down as unconstitutional," Perez told the Sun.
A buzz on the anti-graffiti bills has continued in classrooms where graffiti
work is studied and conceptualized. Vallone said of the professor and students
of a Geek Graffiti class at Parsons School of Design, “He’ll be giving his
students As, but we’ll
be giving them a misdemeanors.”
Vallone has become a prominent anti-graffiti figure, and was featured in Bomb
It, a movie about graffiti artists. Vallone opted not to attend the recent
Tribeca Film Festival screening of the film citing that fact that he would
be an unpopular
Over the next five years, the Department of Education plans to lease 30 existing
buildings to open new schools. In light of this, Councilmember Robert Jackson
introduced Resolution 836 calling
upon the state legislature to amend the Public
Authorities law so that the buildings leased will be subject to the same community,
political and environmental review processes that apply to new school construction.
The safety of school sites came before the City Council earlier this year
when it voted on a proposal to build four schools on a toxic dump. Though members
of the council and the public voiced concerns, the proposal passed
unanimously after the Department of Education agreed to a new plan for cleaning up the
area and to make the school siting process more transparent.
In another resolution on education, Councilmembers Jackson, Oliver Koppell
and Dominic Recchia introduced Resolution 837 calling
for the Department of Education to maintain a minimum level of arts funding for New York City’s public schools.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani began Project ARTS (Arts Restoration to the Schools)
in 1997 to fund
arts education programs. But, according to the resolution,
for the past few years, principals have been allowed to spend the arts funding
on other projects, thus reducing the amount of money going to arts
This would recommend that the education department set a baseline of arts funding
to ensure that
the arts dollars are spent as intended.
With homeowners grumbling about litter tickets, Councilmember Vincent Gentile
introduced bill 568, which
would change the city’s rules about litter around
residential buildings.. Under the law, tickets would be issued when someone
complains to 311 or another agency rather than solely at the discretion of
the sanitation agents.
According to the Gentile’s deputy chief of staff, Joe Mancino, the bill was inspired by the increasing number of “dirty area tickets” issued by the Department of Sanitation, often for reasons unclear to the property owner. This proposal and another one to be introduced at the next City Council meeting are intended to clarify the process. A related bill to reduce waste from unwanted circulars and menus also will be put before the council in the coming weeks.
Councilmember Oliver Koppell introduced bill 572 to prohibit the sale and
possession of unsafe, low quality guns, commonly referred to as “Saturday Night Specials.” These guns are cheap and easy to conceal, but because of their construction they are especially dangerous to gun owners and the public. And they are frequently used in crimes, according to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The proposal would create a Pistol and Revolver Advisory Committee to advise the police commissioner on which guns violate the police department’s standards. Violation of the law would qualify as a misdemeanor.
Councilmember Jessica Lappin introduced bill 573 to require
building owners found to have unsafe conditions on the exterior walls to notify tenants immediately.
Councilmembers Vincent Gentile and John Liu introduced a bill that would require
the Department of Transportation to conduct studies of traffic accidents, determine
the causes of observed patterns, and make
Councilmember Isabel Palma introduced bill 574 to allow
prisoners to receive a birth certificate copy without a fee upon their release.
Councilmember Nelson introduced Resolution 841 —a perpetual dream for the reinstatement
of the commuter tax.
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