Every two weeks the New York City Council meets for its Stated Meeting to introduce and pass legislation. As a regular feature, Searchlight covers these meetings and posts a summary of the bills passed.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“This will end the days when little girls are conditioned to wait on line for the bathroom.” - Councilmember Yvette Clarke speaking in support of a bill to require more restrooms for women in public places.
Declaring that the "fight for women’s rights has entered the 21st century," the New York City Council voted to address an issue that has affected women since the invention of indoor plumbing: long lines for the ladies' room.
The legislation, dubbed "The Restroom Equity Bill of New York" (Intro 42-A) would require many public places to provide twice as many bathroom stalls for women as for men.
The regulations apply to new bars, concert halls, arenas, stadiums, auditoriums, dance clubs, and meeting halls, as well as existing establishments that make extensive renovations.
Brooklyn Councilmember Yvette Clark, who authored the bill, recounted a recent trip to the circus where the lines for the women's restroom stretched out the door, while men waited around for their female friends and family members.
"This will end the days when little girls are conditioned to wait on line for the bathroom," said Clarke. "And for the men, who love those women and love their children, and have had to watch us suffer through the indignity of standing on line to use restrooms, today is your day as well."
After negotiations with the Bloomberg administration, the bill was amended to allow some small business owners to make bathrooms unisex in order to reduce costs. Municipal buildings, restaurants, prisons, schools, and hospitals are exempt from the regulations.
Other states, including California, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington, have already enacted similar restroom equity laws.
The measure passed unanimously, and the mayor is expected to sign it into law.
"Sixty percent of the electorate in my district are female, and I definitely don't want to face them in an election year and have to explain my position if I was on the wrong side of this bill," said Councilmember Erik Dilan.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE FATALITIES
Each year more than 60 women are killed in incidents of domestic violence in New York City.
In an effort to create more collaboration between various city agencies that work on the issue, the council approved the creation of new government committees that will review deaths and injuries resulting from domestic violence. The panels will be comprised of representatives from the police department, shelter system, child welfare system, health department, and organizations that work with women who have been abused.
"This is more than just reviewing data," said Councilmember Tracy Boyland, who drafted the bill (Intro 366-A). "[The goal] is to see if we can catch the signs of domestic violence before it's too late."
FIGHTING FOR CONTROL OF RENTS
Since 1971, the State Legislature in Albany - not the mayor and the City Council - has controlled the city's rent and eviction laws.
This law, named after then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller's housing commissioner, Charles Urstadt, has been the focus of housing advocates for years, who argue that decisions affecting 2.4 million New Yorkers living in rent controlled or rent stabilized apartments should be made by city lawmakers. (Read an article about the Urstadt Law.)
The City Council passed a so-called "home rule message," which calls for the repeal of the Urstadt Law. While the measure holds no legal power, it supports a state bill drafted by Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblymember Vito Lopez, which would give city officials control over rent and eviction regulations.
The three Republican members of the council -â€“ James Oddo, Andrew Lanza, and Dennis Gallagher -â€“ voted against the measure.
COLLECTIVE BARGAINING RIGHTS
Under New York City’s Collective Bargaining Law, certain uniformed employees - police, firefighters, sanitation, and corrections officers - have unique bargaining rights.
The City Council unanimously overrode a veto from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to extend those rights to related positions like emergency medical technicians, sanitation enforcement agents, fire protection inspectors, and school safety workers.
The council argues that its bill (Intro 380-A) is needed because these city workers face hazardous situations on the job, but are not given the same rights as other uniformed employees.
INTERNET CAFES REVISITED
Two weeks ago, the City Council was set to vote on two bills aimed at preventing students from skipping school and spending their days surfing the Web in Internet Cafes, but at the last minute, the council withdrew the bills from the agenda after the New York Civil Liberties Union complained that the measures could infringe on youth rights. (In a previous article, Gotham Gazette incorrectly reported that the measures were passed on May 11, 2005.)
After further revisions to the measures, the council approved them. Intro 65-A requires that Internet cafes obtain licenses from the Department of Consumer Affairs, just as video arcades currently do. And Intro 78-A restricts minors from Internet Cafes during school hours.
Queens Democrat Tony Avella voted against both bills because he said they fail to consider certain issues, like schools that have split sessions.
"Both of these bills should be sent back to committee because they seriously need to be redone," said Avella.
RENAMING JAMAICA AVENUE
The New York City Council is often ridiculed for spending too much time and energy changing street names. But in the case of Jamaica Avenue, which marks the boundary between Queens and Nassau county, the council's action was aimed at more than just honoring a local hero or historic figure.
For years, Jamaica Avenue from 257th Street to the Cross Island Parkway has had two names. The northern side of the street is called Jamaica Avenue; the southern side of the street is called Jericho Turnpike.
Merchants and residents say it is confusing because businesses on opposite sides of the boulevard list different street names in their addresses. Recently, an ambulance was delayed in reaching a sick person on the street because the driver could not locate the correct address.
The council voted (Intro 304-A) to name the entire street Jericho Turnpike.
The next Stated Meeting is scheduled for June 8, 2005.Â