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:
"Do I believe that the behavior of Walmart is outrageous? Yes. Do I think that Walmart is beginning to feel the pressure? It is clear they are. Will they get to a place where we could call them a responsible member of the corporate community? I hope so, but they aren't there yet."
- Speaker Christine Quinn on the need for employers like Walmart to pay for health care benefits.
HEALTHCARE FOR GROCERY WORKERS
The New York City Council overrode its first mayoral veto under the leadership of Speaker Christine Quinn in an effort to require grocery and "big box" stores like Walmart to provide health care coverage for their employees.
The veto override relates to an amendment (Intro 758-A) to the Health Care Security Act, a previous bill passed last year that requires employers to contribute $2.50 for each hour an employee works, or $5,000 a year for a full-time employee toward the worker's health costs.
The amendment changes the act so that it applies to stores with more than 50 employees (the previous bill said 35 or more employees) and excluded temporary and seasonal workers. The bill also applies to large stores, like Walmart, which use a significant amount of their space to sell food.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed both measures, arguing that they violate federal law, which limits state and local government involvement in employee benefits.
The council overrode the mayor by a vote of 48 to 2; Republican Councilmember Andrew Lanza and Democrat Simcha Felder sided with the mayor. The council only needs a two-thirds majority to override the veto.
Still, it is unlikely that that the council's action will have much impact on the 27,000 workers it is intended to help. In February, New York's highest court ruled that the mayor does not have to enforce city laws that he deems to be illegal.
Quinn called the court ruling "a challenge, not a problem" and said it was important for the council to send a message that businesses should be expected to give their workers benefits.
"Do I think that Walmart is beginning to feel the pressure? It is clear they are," said Quinn.
The mayor and council will likely continue the battle over the legislation in court.
Despite their differences on the bill, Quinn said that she hoped there would be fewer mayoral vetoes and City Council overrides than in the previous council under Speaker Gifford Miller.
"Vetoes and overrides should be extraordinary acts," said Quinn. "I hope we have to do them infrequently."
The council also passed a measure that extends the Department of Finance's authority to sell tax liens for another six months, until August 31, 2006. The sale of tax liens allows the city to collect property taxes on buildings that are in foreclosure that would otherwise not be paid.
Over the next six months, the council also wants to review the program to ensure that senior citizens and disabled New Yorkers do not lose their homes.
"Seniors are having trouble paying their taxes because their properties are now more valuable [due to a rise in real estate prices]," said Councilmember David Yassky. "They should not be forced to move out of their homes because they can't pay those taxes."
The bill passed unanimously at the request of the Bloomberg administration.
CITY COUNCIL REFORM
Shortly after being elected as Speaker, Christine Quinn vowed to reform the internal rules that govern the City Council to make the legislative body more open and transparent.
One aspect of the promised reform is to set up a task force to review the current rules and work with good-government groups to come up with ways that they can be improved.
Quinn appointed Councilmembers David Yassky and Dan Garodnick to head up the task force, which will also include Gale Brewer, Leroy Comrie, Robert Jackson, Oliver Koppell, Michael McMahon, and Dominic Recchia.
FLATBUSH AVENUE BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT
The council passed a measure (Intro 92-A) that begins the process of establishing a Business Improvement District on the corner of Flatbush and Nostrand Avenues in Brooklyn.
Business improvement districts provide activities or amenities that promote business in a specific area, including maintenance and sanitation, and holiday decorations. They are funded by assessments on property owners within the area.
The next Stated Meeting is scheduled for March 22, 2006.