The City Council last week passed a bill that would protect "educational whistleblowers", setting up another conflict with Mayor Michael Bloomberg just two weeks after he rejected its plan to regulate pedicabs.
At its stated meeting, the council also passed laws that would extend benefits for family members of city workers who die in the line of duty, toughen prohibitions on video piracy, and protect the privacy of lobbyists' families.
The council whistleblower bill would extend protections to teachers, social workers, and others who report conduct that negatively affects a child's welfare.
Speaker Christine Quinn argued that there are holes in the current whistleblowers law that could leave some teachers unprotected from retaliation. She said that she was not aware of any case where a teacher had been punished for speaking out, but argued, "There is certainly evidence of teachers who have indicated that they have not come forward, because they feared what would happen."
Some outside the council charged that the bill as intentionally providing vague protections it as a way for critics â€“ namely the teachers union â€“ to snipe at the mayor's changes to the educational system.
The Daily News argued that state legislation already protects teachers who report mismanagement or abuse of authority, and said the law is "designed to sabotage, at the behest of the teachers union, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein's driver to bring accountability to the city's classrooms."
The United Federation of Teachers tried unsuccessfully to get a similar provision written into its contract last fall, said Bloomberg. He says he will veto the bill.
The bill passed by a vote of 43 to one, with Peter Vallone Jr. voting no, giving the council enough votes to override the veto.
To protect the film industry, the council passed legislation (Intro 383) intended to cut down on film piracy. Over the last several years, city officials have taken steps to encourage the city's film industry, such as the creation of a film industry tax credit. As a result the industry is thriving, according to the council report that claims that the tax credit alone has generated 6,000 jobs and increased spending on film production by $450 million.
The illegal film industry also flourishes in the city, however. Between June 2004 and June 2005, 800,000 counterfeit DVDs and 700 DVD burners were seized in New York City.
Almost all bootleg movies are made by simply taping the screen in a movie theater, according to NBC-Universal, and half of these recordings are made in the New York area. This bill would make it illegal to operate film recording equipment in a movie theater, and violators would face six months in jail and fines of up to $5,000. It passed unanimously.
INCREASED BENEFITS FOR FAMILIES OF CITY WORKERS
Families of corrections and sanitation employees killed in the line of duty would continue to receive health benefits under another bill (499-a) passed by a unanimous vote, a benefit already extended to the families of police officers and firefighters.
The families of corrections and sanitation employees who are killed generally receive these benefits already, but the council has to amend the administrative code for each individual case. This bill would make that step unnecessary.
The families of two sanitation workers would benefit immediately, according to Councilmember Joseph Addabbo, the bill's primary sponsor.
Addabbo has previously introduced similar legislation that would apply to all city workers, but the idea languished due to concerns about the cost. He says he hopes to reach that goal "piece by piece," by protecting classes of city workers who are at the highest risk first.
LOBBYING AND PRIVACY
The council amended its recent changes to the lobbying laws, responding to concerns that the requirement that the addresses of lobbyists' children be published could endanger their safety. Watchdog groups consider information about donations from lobbyists' families essential, because these donation can serve as a way around contribution caps.
The change would not ease disclosure requirements, said Quinn; it would simply keep certain information private.
"You and the public will know that their child gave," she said in response to a reporter's question. "You won't know their child's address."
RESOLUTIONS: AMICUS BRIEFS AND LIBRARY WEEK
The council also passed two resolutions.
One (Res 803) would allow Quinn to file an amicus brief in the council's name in a lawsuit regarding a dispute over whether a landlord is allowed to receive city tax abatements while refusing to accept section-8 vouchers. Quinn believes that the landlord must accept the vouchers given to low-income residents to use for housing costs, and the Bloomberg administration agrees.
The three Republicans â€“ Dennis Gallagher, Vincent Ignizio, and James Oddo â€“ voted against the resolution.
The second resolution (Res 746), designated the week of April 15 to April 21 as "Library Week." It passed unanimously.