There is no doubt the City Council is gearing up to say goodbye to summer and
hello to its more hectic legislative schedule. To do that, members have recently
introduced bills to regulate everything from Peeping Toms to construction companies.
While some of the bills claim to improve safety in the city, advocacy groups
have criticized a number of the measures, calling some overreaching or utterly
unenforceable. One organization described a piece of legislation as a threat
to civil liberties.
Over the next several months, these bills may or may not come up for hearings.
So here is a little preview of what could be in store at City Hall.
Regulation of Blasting
In mid-July, a retaining wall collapsed on the Upper West Side,
residents out of their homes. Although the cause of the wall's collapse
has not yet been determined, some city officials and residents attribute it to
blasting at an adjacent construction site on Columbus Avenue.
In response, the district's councilmember, Melissa Mark Viverito, proposed
613) legislation that would strengthen the city's blasting regulations,
specifically reducing a blasting permit's validity from three years to three
months. The applicant would, however, have an opportunity to request a one-year
The legislation would also require a trained representative from the fire department
or Department of Buildings to be on site during demolitions involving blasting
and excavations on privately owned property.
At a time when development appears to overrun our neighborhoods and inconvenience
our lives, it is our responsibility as legislators to ensure that development
is as responsible, safe and accountable as possible," said Viverito following
the legislation's introduction.
The legislation also proposes to increase community notification in the area
where blasting is occurring and coordinate communication between the departments
that oversee this type of construction, such as the Department of Buildings and
the fire department.
Although the fire department is charged with issuing an explosives permit, under
the new legislation it must coordinate with the Department of Buildings and the
Department of Environmental Protection, including noticing them on permit requests.
A spokesperson for the Department of Buildings said it is currently reviewing
the legislation and "looks forward" to working with the council.
So far the bill has 13 sponsors, including Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who
held a press conference announcing the measure. Quinn's support essentially guarantees
the bill's approval.
Prohibiting Peeping in Pubic
When several women in his Queens district complained of a so-called "Peeping
Tom" looking up their skirts while they climbed the steps to an elevated
subway station, Councilmember Peter Vallone discovered the action wasn't a crime.
Now, he wants to make it a misdemeanor, which comes with a maximum 90-day jail
sentence and a $500 fine.
These perverts use their eyes to invade the privacy of people's bodies, leaving
many feeling violated," Vallone said in a prepared statement. "Yet
up until now, there has been a peephole loophole that gives anyone a license
to gawk, leer and spy anywhere they please."
Vallone's voyeurism legislation
617) would make it illegal for an individual to repeatedly and deliberatively
view another person's "intimate parts" without their knowledge or consent
in public places, like at an elevated subway station. In private settings, the
bill would apply to viewing another person without their knowledge or consent
when that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as drilling a
hole in a private bathroom.
Although the councilmember said the bill is modeled after similar statutes in
Washington, South Carolina and Arizona, others contend the legislation is unenforceable.
The proposed law seeks to address behavior that is ambiguous and imprecise, and
the language of the bill reflects that ambiguity and imprecision," said
http://www.nyclu.org/ New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna
Lieberman. "This lack of clarity confers a license for abuse on those empowered
to enforce the law by leaving it up to the individual police officer to decide
which kinds of viewing are lawful and which kinds are degrading and hence unlawful."
Others agree. A
New York Times
editorial contends Vallone's most recent crusade "feels like something akin
to outlawing wolf whistles from a construction site and, then, banning the corresponding
hand signal from the street."
Banning the B-Word
In yet another battle over semantics, the City Council could soon be rehashing
a debate over common epithets. Earlier this year it was the
n-word, now, thanks to Councilmember Darlene Mealy, it’s the b-word and
While it is entirely symbolic, her resolution
960) would create a moratorium on the pejorative use of bitch and ho. The
legislation reads like the guest list to the Grammy Awards, citing the words'
usage by various hip hop artists and most other media outlets and calling it "insulting
In February, the City Council garnered
attention when it passed a resolution banning the n-word. So far support
for this resolution in the council seems promising, having accumulated nearly
Although the "b-word" is used as a term for a female dog, its pejorative
use, first documented in 1811, is offensive and hateful, according to the resolution.
Singling Out Smokers
Soon cars carrying minors could become smoke-free zones under legislation introduced
by Councilmember James Gennaro. In an attempt to blow away second hand smoke,
known to contain 4,000 chemicals, 250 poisons and 43 carcinogens, the bill
611) would create civil penalties for smoking in a private vehicle with
children under 18 years old. It would be enforced by the police department and
apply to smoking passengers and drivers.
It is my belief that people’s right to privacy doesn’t extend to
force-feeding their children cigarettes within the confines of the car,” Gennaro
said in a prepared statement. “This legislation will act as a deterrent,
will inform parents of the dangers of secondhand smoke and will help to de-normalize
On the other hand, some smoking advocates have said the legislation is an
Under the bill, fines could be as much as $400 for a
first violation and spike to $2,000 for three violations in one year. Rockland
County has moved to ban smoking in cars with minors, and similar measures have
been adopted in New Jersey, Maine, Puerto Rico, Arkansas and Louisiana.
Nixing Styrofoam in the City
Approximately 153 million Styrofoam trays are used by the Department of Education
annually to serve lunch to the city's students. Because Styrofoam is not biodegradable,
Councilmember Bill de Blasio is hoping to eradicate its use by all city agencies
and city-run food establishments.
609) would prohibit the use of Styrofoam, or Polystyrene, and it would
apply primarily to city-operated delis or establishments that use the containers
for "to-go" items.
Communities across the country, many in California, have adopted similar bans.
The councilmember also introduced a companion
996) urging the city's Department of Education, which is not
controlled by the council, to adopt a similar policy.
It is mind boggling that our city, which is becoming a leader on environmental
issues, is still using Styrofoam when we know it is extremely harmful to our
environment and creating massive amounts of waste,” said de Blasio.
The legislation provides for several exemptions, such as when an establishment
has exhausted all other alternatives and for "health or safety" reasons
cannot find an alternative packing material.
Styrofoam contains the
benzene, styrene and ethylene, which have all been flagged on the
Environmental Protection Agency's hazardous substance
list. According to the
legislation, Styrofoam is also resistant to compacting and takes hundreds of
years to decompose.
With the Michael Vick dog fighting scandal as a backdrop, Councilmember Vallone
also introduced legislation that would drastically increase fines for harboring
or owning a fighting dog.
Under the bill,
616) maximum civil penalties would be raised from $5,000 to $25,000, while
the minimum fine would jump from $500 to $10,000.
Parking Perks for the Blind
Councilmember Joseph Addabbo is attempting to stretch handicap parking to the
blind by introducing legislation that
607) allows those transporting the visually impaired to acquire handicap
parking permits. Both transportation and disability advocates have expressed
support for the bill.
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