The New York City Council met for its final session of the year and passed more than a dozen new bills.
It was the last meeting under Speaker Gifford Miller, who is term- limited out of office. In addition, seven other veteran council members - Margarita Lopez, Eva Moskowitz, Phil Reed, Bill Perkins, Madeline Provenzano, Tracy Boyland, and Allan Jennings - said farewell to the legislative body.
The meeting began with nearly two hours of speeches, as members recounted their efforts over the last four years, said goodbye to the departing members, and offered parting advice.
Speaker Miller recalled how 38 new members took office in January 2002, a few months after the terrorist attacks of September 11th. He praised the council for closing billion-dollar budget gaps and for instituting new lead paint regulations, protecting domestic partnerships, and making emergency contraception more easily available.
"The city is better off now than it was four years ago because of the work of this council," said Miller. "And I know that those who are continuing on will do even greater things."
Several members took the opportunity to remember James Davis, who was shot in the council chambers in 2002. Councilmember Letitia James, who was elected to the seat after his death, said that she thought Davis would be proud of the work of the council to help the poor.
Outgoing Councilmember Bill Perkins used a portion of his time to say "how bad an idea term limits is."
Margarita Lopez focused on missed opportunities, arguing that the council should have passed legislation to create accessible taxis for the disabled.
And Allan Jennings - who was the focus of an embarrassing sexual harassment case and the only council member to lose a bid for reelection his year â€“ offered a farewell promise.
"My parting words: 'I'll be back,'" said Jennings.
The major piece of legislation passed by the council was a revision of the city's 30-year-old noise code.
The new code (Intro 397-A):
- Restricts excessive noise from construction sites and allows construction work only between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays.
- Forbids sanitation or other large trucks from operating in residential areas at night.
- Requires bars to keep music below a specific decibel level.
- Allows Mr. Softee ice cream trucks to play jingles ONLY while they are in motion.
- Adds noise from motorcycles, car radios, and portable stereos to the city's regulations.
- And forbids continuous animal noise inside a residence for more than 10 minutes between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. or for more than five minutes after 10 p.m.
The regulations also impose new fines - ranging from $50 to $8,000 - for those who break the law.
"This will make the city a quieter, healthier place," said Councilmember James Gennaro.
However, some members said that regulations were rushed through the process and that the council must revisit it in the New Year. "There are too many deficiencies and defects," said Councilmember Alan Gerson.
The noise regulations passed unanimously.
The council passed three bills aimed at improving city schools.
One bill (Intro 464-A) requires schools to do more to communicate with parents who are not proficient in English. Report cards, invitations to parent-teacher conferences, and other official notices must now be printed in nine different languages. The bill's supporters said the measure would help students who are most likely to drop out by getting their parents more involved.
"We are leaving the children of immigrants behind at a staggering rate," said Councilmember Hiram Monserratte.
However, some council members adamantly opposed it, saying it was a waste of $20 million that should go to the classroom or other more pressing needs.
"It sends the wrong message that you don't need to learn English," said Councilmember Andrew Lanza.
The council passed the measure by a vote of 35 to 11, with one abstention. Tony Avella, Simcha Felder, Dennis Gallagher, James Gennarro, Vincent Gentile, Andrew Lanza, Michael McMahon, Dominic Recchia, Kendall Stewart, Peter Vallone, Jr. and James Oddo voted "no;" Joseph Addabbo "abstained."
The two other bills require the Department of Education to provide more information to the council.
Intro 619-A requires the Department of Education to report on the average class sizes in each school.
And Intro 550-A requires the administration to provide the council with an account of "temporary" classrooms -- converted offices, bathrooms, basements, and even storage closets that some schools have been made into classrooms to ease overcrowding.
CONTRACTS FOR MINORITY AND WOMEN-OWNED BUSINESSESThe council also aims to give more city contracts to businesses owned by people of color and women.
The legislation (Intro 727-A) requires each city agency to establish a plan to encourage minority and women-owned businesses to compete for city contracts under $1 million. It also eases some requirements set by the Department of Small Business. The Bloomberg administration supports the legislation.
"This sets targets of what we want to aim for," said Councilmember James Sanders Jr. "But it does not set quotas."
The measure passed by a vote of 42 to 5. Simcha Felder, Dennis Gallagher, Andrew Lanza, Peter Vallone, Jr. and James Oddo voted "no."
INTERNET ACCESS FOR ALL NEW YORKERS
In an attempt to improve the availability of high-speed Internet access in New Yorkers, the council voted (Intro 625-A) to create a commission to look the issue.
The panel, whose members will be appointed by the mayor and council, will be required to hold public hearings in each of the five boroughs at least once a year to educate the public on new technologies and to solicit comments on the availability of Internet access in various neighborhoods.
REVISED HEALTHCARE SECURITY ACT
The council also revisited a bill it first passed in August that requires employers in grocery stores to provide their workers with health care insurance. The council amended the measure (Intro 758-A) to ease the regulations for small stores. It now applies only to grocery stores with more than 50 employees (up from 35 in the previous bill).
The council also passed two measures aimed at improving the well being of children.
Intro 480-A will create task force to investigate the death of any child in New York. Currently, the city only tracks deaths of children who receive support from the Administration for Children's Services. In other cities, such committees have lead to new child safety laws, pedestrian initiatives, and fire regulations.
The council also established (Intro 492) a parent advisory committee for the city's foster care system. It will consist of ten parents from organizations that work on foster care issues, four foster parents, and four parents who have adopted children.
The council passed several bills aimed at curbing and cleaning up graffiti.
Intro 299-A establishes penalties for certain commercial and residential property owners who fail to remove graffiti from their buildings and empowers the city to clean it up if an owner refuses to do it. Commercial and residential building owners (of properties with more than six apartments) can be fined between $150 and $300 for failing to remove graffiti within sixty days.
Another measure (Intro 663-A) mandates community service for those caught doing graffiti.
BOATING REGULATIONS AND CRIME IN PARKS
Since the Harlem River has been cleaned up in recent years, more people are using it for recreation, which has raised new safety concerns. In October, Jim Runsdorf, a man who was rowing on the Harlem River, was struck and killed by a motorboat.
The council passed legislation (Intro 495-A) establishing "no wake zones" on the Harlem River to improve boating safety. The city will post signs on the river and distribute information to boat docks in the area.
The council also approved a bill (Intro 470-A) that requires the police department to submit crime reports for city parks and playgrounds.
ENVIRONMENTAL LEGISLATIONThe council passed a package of legislation that will require the city to purchase environmentally friendly or "green" products.
Intro 536-A requires the city to purchase faucets, showerheads, toilets, fluorescent lamps and other products with the "Energy Star" seal of approval.
Intro 544-A reduces the city's purchasing of products that contain hazardous or toxic substances.
Intro 545-A requires that paper office supplies, insulation, polyester carpet, restroom dividers, traffic cones, plastic trash bags and other items purchased by the city contain recycled materials.
Intro 552-A reduces the use of cleaning products with toxic chemicals.
And to ensure that the city is following these guidelines and to investigate other ways to reduce the environmental impact of items that the city buys, the council voted to Intro 534-A create an Office of Environmental Purchasing.
"We will use the vast purchasing power of New York City to send a message about what can be done to help the environment," said James Gennaro.
THE NEW YEAR - AND A NEW SPEAKER
The first City Council meeting of the new year is scheduled for January 4, 2006. At this meeting the council will elect a new speaker and approve any changes in the rules that govern how the council operates.
For information on who wants to be the next speaker and some of the reforms that returning council members want, see a transcript of a recent forum with the speaker candidates.