Internet resources for what you need to know on NYC Law
by Margaret Reuter, Center for New York City Law at New York Law School
The topic: "NYC Law" refers to the legal and juridical dimensions of City public policy. What do the laws say? How have they been interpreted? What is the relationship between laws as written and rules as enforced?
The context: The sheer size of NYC government requires its extensive legal involvement in countless issues. Over 700 attorneys are employed in the Office of the Corporation Counsel alone. Every major and minor public policy issue has a legal dimension. On some issues ≠ Charter revision or campaign finance limits, for example ≠ the legal dimension is paramount.
Meg's Top Five Sites For Beginners:
In the News: Sex in the City
The City is about to complete its first full year of enforcing the new sex shop zoning law - forbidding nude or topless clubs, theatres, and book and video stores within 500 feet of any church, school, residential district or of another sex shop. Passed in September 1995, constitutional challenges delayed enforcement of the law until 22 July 1998.
The upshot: the City's enforcement effort has been determined, but so have the sex shops defensive maneuverings. The most curious developments have centered on the law's definition of an adult establishment (i.e. sex shop) as one where a "substantial portion" is devoted to exposing private body parts or certain erotic or sexual activities. Topless and nude dancing clubs have rearranged their interiors turning 60 percent of the floor area into cigar rooms, sports bars, and the like, arguing that if their employees stay (barely) clothed in those rooms, the club is not a sex shop.
The unforeseen (and slightly humorous) result? The courts have counted every square foot of the club's floor area allocating each inch to the adult or non-adult column, or excluding it from the 60:40 ratio calculation. Following this physical examination, in most cases, the courts have largely rejected this defense strategy. They argued that the new interior renovations were a sham and deemed the side attractions too closely linked to the main adult attractions to qualify as separate areas. Though fixed walls with a bouncer stationed at the doorway and little viewing opportunity of the spicy side of the club have been okayed, mylar curtains, plexiglass, and shoji curtains were inadequate partitions of a non-adult area. Areas used for private dancing with customers or bikini-clad lap dancing are considered too connected with the adult activities to qualify as non-adult. Sectioning off a lounge, TV room, and cigar bar qualified as non-adult until later inspections showed the cigar room was only open to customers escorted by off-stage dancers for private lap dances for an extra fee. A game room that was closed on each inspection did not qualify as a customer accessible area. As for hallways, lobbies, and bathrooms, no consistent rulings have emerged when or whether they are considered adult, non-adult, or neither in the square footage calculation.
More than 50 judicial opinions and orders have been issued to date, many padlocking the sex shops found to violate the zoning law's siting edicts. The City successfully closed numerous shops, including some of the most notorious. Many have re-opened. And some have even been padlocked again. The final size and character of the sex industry in New York City is uncertain, but it is clear that it will be quite different from the way it was in 1995, when the zoning change was put in place.
Meg Sounds Off:
Effectiveness of federal/city welfare reform: In November 96, the State Comptroller and Deputy Comptroller for New York City issued a report expressing concern about the CityĻs capacity to absorb former welfare recipients into the labor force. The Comptroller then sued and recently won the right to gather and examine the City Human Resources Administration records tracking the number of welfare recipients finding jobs. (Court of Appeals' decision: April 1999). A thorough examination of these records will be an essential tool for mid-course corrections. Why not post all the raw data on the Internet?