On April 23, the New York City Council overrode two mayoral vetoes and so instituted new restrictions on pedicabs and banned metal baseball bats from high school sports leagues. In addition to these somewhat contentious votes, the council had the pleasure of doing what some say it does best: spend money. The members voted unanimously to approve an additional $1.8 billion in spending in this year’s budget. They also passed resolutions on the 9/11 cleanup, school funding and the Virginia Tech massacre.
Last month, the City Council approved a series of regulations for pedicabs - bicycle taxis that have become increasingly popular. Mayor Michael Bloomberg had been expected to approve the bill as well, but at a signing ceremony at the end of March, the mayor talked to pedicab drivers who said they feared they would loose their jobs if the bill became law, and he decided to veto it instead.
At the urging of the business in theater and midtown areas in her district, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn praised the regulation in Intro 331, saying it was something she had wanted to do for years. Quinn emphasized that the use of city streets to make money is a privilege, not a right, and that the city must set standards for the developing pedicab industry.
The new regulations:
-require operating licenses for pedicab drivers
-mandate that owners have insurance for up to $2 million
-require that bikes have rain-proof brakes, headlights, taillights and turn signals
-prohibit motorized pedaling equipment
-ban pedicabs from bridges, tunnels and bike lanes
-and limit the number of pedicabs in the city to 325.
Speaker Quinn said she did not know how many pedicabs are currently on the streets, but some council members estimated between 500 and 600. The 325 licenses will be distributed through a lottery run by the Department of Consumer Affairs, a process which has been criticized by some because it gives preference to current pedicab drivers.
Councilmembers Charles Barron, Tony Avella and Alan Gerson (as well as Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion) said the rules would mean that many drivers would lose their jobs and that the cap on pedicaps would effectively kill efforts to spread the taxi service to the outer boroughs.
The override vote passed by a 35 to 6 margin, with Tony Avella, Charles Barron, Helen Foster, Alan Gerson, Hiram Monserrate and Albert Vann siding with the mayor. Gale Brewer and Darlene Mealy “abstained.”
Leroy Comrie, one of the bill’s sponsors, said that the regulations had been discussed and negotiated “to the point that everyone could be comfortable that no one was happy with it” and in his opinion, “that makes a good bill.”
Pedicab drivers say they will sue to overturn the regulations.
METAL BAT BAN
The aim of Intro 341 is to reduce the risk of accidents; proponents of the ban say that baseballs hit with a metal bat travel 8 miles per hour faster than balls hit from wooden ones.
Responding to critics who consider the bill an unnecessary intrusion by the government, Councilmember James Oddo, the bill’s author, said, “I am going to ponder that notion as I sit in my local tavern, as I attempt to order a tall glass of grain alcohol, as I attempt to smoke my Marlboro cigarettes, as I stare down at the condom that was handed to me at the entrance of the subway, as I wait for that hamburger with that partially hydrogenated oil dripping from it,” adding that, “government gets involved when we know the status quo is unacceptable.”
The council voted 41 to 4 to overturn the veto; Tony Avella, Erik Dilan, Dan Garodnick and David Weprin sided with the mayor.
Other jurisdictions with similar bans include the Nassau Suffolk Catholic High School Athletic Association, the North Dakota High School Association, the Prospect Park Baseball Association of Brooklyn and the Garden City Athletic Association. Also, the state legislatures of Montana and New Jersey are considering similar measures.
Bat manufacturers are promise to bring lawsuits against the city to overturn the legislation.
MODIFYING A HEALTHY BUDGET
The city’s economy is doing well thanks in large part to Wall Street profits and a lively real estate market. As a result, the city government has an additional $1.8 billion more than it projected earlier in the year.
The City Council voted unanimously on Resolutions 827 and 828 to modify the current budget (something it does routinely four times a year).
The budget modification will prepay 2008 expenses such as:
-debt service cost
-$208 million in transit subsidies
-$225 million for libraries
-$91 million in Heath and Hospitals Corporation operating costs
-$227 million to leverage federal Medicaid reimbursements
It will also fund new and existing initiatives including:
-$15 million for the city’s poverty commission programs
-$92 million for additional resources for the Administration for Child Services
-$71 million for collective bargaining (including the United Federation of Teachers contract agreement).
Described by Speaker Quinn as a “good news budget modification,” the proposal passed the finance committee and full council unanimously and prompted little discussion in the council chambers.
RESOLUTIONS FOR 9/11 CLEANUP, SCHOOL FUNDING, AND VIRGINIA TECH
The day after Earth Day, more than a half a dozen council members - Alan Gerson, Lew Fidler, Helen Foster, G. Oliver Koppell, Michael Nelson, James Sanders Jr. and David Weprin introduced Resolution 747 calling upon the Environmental Protection Agency to revamp its Test and Clean Program, set up to address the environmental impacts of the 9/11 disaster and published its report for the final phase of the project in December of last year.
At a January hearing before the New York City Council’s Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Committee, critics urged the EPA to include portions of Brooklyn and additional areas of Manhattan in its program and work in concert with local businesses, residents and other affected parties. Experts appointed by the EPA itself to review the current initiative have called it “scientifically unsound.”
The City Council passed Resolution 742 urging the U.S. Congress, the governor and the State Legislature to address the emerging funding gap for 21st Century Community Learning Centers created by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. The funding for the programs, which 20,000 New York City kids participate in, will end in June 2007.
The city council also passed Resolution 822 denouncing the Virginia Tech murders.