At each of the City Council's stated meetings, council members introduce bills,
most of which will never become laws (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.
Caregiver Status and Discrimination
The city would expand the field of people protected by discrimination on the
job under a bill introduced by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, Councilmembers
Bill de Blasio, David Weprin and Gale Brewer. Intro 565 would prohibit employment
discrimination based on a person’s status as a caregiver responsible for a child or ill parent. The issue for such caregivers arises at work and when applying for jobs and often concerns such matter as compulsory overtime, schedule flexibility, opportunities to make phone calls and potential for promotion.
Gotbaum’s initiative was prompted by a phone call from John Dallas, a New
Yorker who cared for his ailing mother for eight years. He contacted the public
office after her came under pressure not to leave work to tend to her and instead
to send her to a
A report by
the Center for Worklife found that 57 percent of working caregivers have had
to disrupt their work schedules to provide care. Another report by the Center for Worklife showed that New York is among the states with the
most discrimination lawsuits arising from family responsibilities and that
the East Coast region has the highest proportion of victories for plaintiffs
in these cases. According to a 2004 report by the National Alliance for Caregiving
mentioned in the text of the bill, over 20 percent of Americans and nearly
two million New Yorkers care for family members or friends. De Blasio asserted
that these caregivers need support and should not have to fear losing their
jobs to tend to loved ones.
Intro 565 would amend the New York City Human Rights Law, which is among the
most comprehensive in the nation, to add caregiver status to the list of traits
that employers may not discriminate against. The most recent amendments to
the human rights law added protections for partnership status in 2005 and for
victims of domestic violence, sex offenses and stalking in 2003.
Currently, the District of Columbia is the only place in the United States to prohibit employment discrimination because of caregiver responsibilities.
Gotbaum also supports the state
legislature’s Working Families Time to
Care Act, which would provide temporary paid leave to an employee to care
for a family member.
Enforcing Energy Conservation
The day after Earth Day and Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s speech on creating a sustainable New York, Councilmember Dan Garodnick introduced bill 564 to improve the enforcement of the state Energy Conservation Construction Code and to create stricter standards for projects not normally covered by the regulations.
The proposal would require specific and thorough documentation of a building,
subsystems (such as lighting and ductwork) and equipment (such as escalators
and plumbing) when substantial renovations occur. Currently, state regulations
require that buildings undergoing reconstruction that affects more than half
the structure comply with the Energy Conservation Code. By July 2008, this
bill would extend that requirement to buildings with smaller construction projects
and institute basic minimum standards for lighting, windows, heating, air conditioning
Also seeking to reform New York City construction, Bloomberg last week announced
plans to reform the city’s building codes, which have been described as “Byzantine” and “Talmudic.” His
proposals would especially apply to new construction projects with regard to
safety, conservation and efficiency.
Councilmembers Lew Fidler and Michael Nelson introduced bill
563 to regulate the sale and use of personal watercraft, primarily jet skis. Current
New York State Navigation Law requires riders in personal watercraft to wear
life vests, not drive recklessly, stay at least 500 feet from designated bathing
areas and not drive in the dark. The law also requires crafts to have proper
engine ventilation and be equipped with a horn, hazard light and emergency
break latch. The proposal would require buyers of the crafts to be at least
16 years old. For their part, sellers would need to demonstrate the vehicle’s safety features and keep the purchasers’ information on record. Without the cap and controversy of the pedicab regulations, this bill has received minimal if any coverage in the press.
Apologizing for Slavery
Councilmembers John Liu, Larry Seabrook and Robert Jackson introduced Resolution
824 that expresses “profound regret for slavery and historic wrongs rooted in racial and cultural bias.”
Though in the North, New York City had a long history of not only participating in the slave trade and profiting from slave labor, but also of having been reluctant to emancipate slaves.
An inclusive declaration, the resolution states, “African American, Hispanic-American, Asian American and Native American communities continue to suffer from financial and social inequities, patterns of housing segregation, deficiencies in educational resources, and de facto remnants of formerly codified racism.”
In discussing the resolution, Jackson emphasized the lingering impacts of slavery on African American New Yorkers, such as high incarceration rates and a lack of access to quality healthcare and education.
Councilmember Albert Vann cited the fact that freed slaves, “never received
the 40 acres and a mule that was planned,” and added, “I
think the least of what we can do is to apologize.”
The New York State Legislature also is considering a
bill apologizing for slavery. These city and state apologies are relatively uncontroversial, but
Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries admits that winning passage of his bill to create
a reparations commission would be “tough.”
In April, the University of Virginia board passed a
resolution apologizing for its use of slave labor. The states of Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland
have made similar apologies, and Alabama and Florida are considering such resolutions.
Commemorating Religious Freedom
Councilmember Helen Sears proposed Resolution 825 to
commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Flushing Remonstrance. This was the first exercise of freedom
in religion in the United States, as the signers rebuked then governor of New
Amsterdam Peter Stuyvesant for banning all religions except the Dutch Reform
Church. A ceremony with descendants of the original signers is planned for
December 27, 2007.
Street Names Redux
Twenty-nine council members introduced an amended street naming proposal that
removed Sonny Carson Avenue from consideration. Bill 556 retained the other
51 thoroughfare recommendations.
Speaker Christine Quinn had called for removing Sonny Carson from the rest
of the bill because he was “divisive.” No
council members commented on the change during the April 24, but two members
of the community board that made
the initial recommendation to honor Carson described the removal of his avenue
designation as “arbitrary and capricious” and are filing
Carson, a black activist who died in 2002, was heralded by for his civic work in the community and for his efforts against police brutality, but was also convicted of kidnapping in 1974 and was known for making anti-white statements and boycotting Korean groceries.
If Carson does eventually become an Avenue, he would not be the first
controversial figure to receive such an honor. Gates Avenue is named after
slave owners, and Corbin Avenue initially was named after an anti-Semitic real-estate
developer and later renamed for a Revolutionary War heroine with
the same surname.
And, in another contentious honor, entertainer Al Jolson who frequently performed
in blackface, may soon
into the City Council Hall of Fame.
The City Council also proposed two resolutions concurring with a state legislative
proposals and one seeking action. Resolution 37 supports
a bill which would
allow any registered nurse or midwife who is a member of the New York City
Employee Retirement System to participate in the age 55 improved benefit plan,
a retirement program for people in physically taxing professions.
Resolution 38 calls for the passage of a bill that would enable certain city
employees who were laid off, specifically after the 9/11 cleanup, and later
rehired to be able to buy back pension credits for the time of their suspension
and be treated as continuously employed for the purposes of seniority and promotions.
823, the council urges the legislature to make Elderly Pharmaceutical
Insurance Coverage available to people eligible for social security disability
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