Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics


City Council Stated Meeting Report - Nov. 23 2004

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:
"Tiger bones, rhino horns, bear bile.” – Ingredients in Chinese alternative medicines that would be banned under a new City Council bill that prohibits the sale, purchase, or advertising of products that contain endangered species.

Meeting Summary:
Three years after Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a plan for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to take over the city’s private bus lines, it remains unclear if and when an agreement will be reached. Meanwhile, the 400,000 riders who use the service are holding out hope of someday getting new buses and more reliable service.

For the fourth time in recent years, the City Council reluctantly extended the deadline to continue the current operation of the seven bus franchises. The administration’s failure to produce a real plan, members say, has cost the city $16 million in lost federal transportation funding earmarked for new buses.

“Three years is long enough for the mayor to figure out if he can do this or not,” said Council Speaker Gifford Miller.

The mayor wants the MTA to take over the bus lines, which could save the city $100 million in annual subsidies. The MTA believes it can provide better service on the bus routes, but it faces a growing deficit and wants more financial support from the city.

Many City Council members, who represent the people who depend on the buses, say the riders and employees of the bus companies are suffering.

“Every community meeting I go to I hear the same questions: When are we getting new buses? When are we getting better service?” said Queens Councilmember Leroy Comrie.

The city did get some good news during the day when Mayor Bloomberg announced that he would allocate $132 million in new federal funding to purchase 300 new buses. The mayor also said he had now “established specific deadlines for the transfer of each bus company.”

But City Council member John Liu, who chairs the transportation committee, called the mayor’s deadlines “nothing more than a smoke screen.”

The council also acted on another transportation measure and overrode the mayor’s veto of a ban on illegal motorized scooters. The council’s bill (Intro 98) makes it illegal to sell the small motorized scooters, which are already illegal to drive in the city.

In his veto, the mayor said that current laws were sufficient and that people would simply buy the scooters outside of the city. The council said the scooters, which are purchased primarily by teenagers, are a critical safety and quality of life issue.

“The mayor vetoed a ban on these illegal death machines because he is worried about business,” said Councilmember Peter Vallone, Jr.

The council also approved a measure (Intro 310-A) that would require the Department of Corrections to provide inmates with assistance in applying for government benefits and identification upon their release. In the past, inmates from Rikers Island have been released at a train station and given only a MetroCard.

“These people will be returning to our communities,” said Councilmember Yvette Clarke, who drafted the bill. “And the more that we can equip [former inmates] as they come back to society, the better off we all will be.”

Finally, the council approved a bill (Intro 367-A) that makes it illegal to buy, sell, or advertise any product that contains an endangered or threatened species.

A recent World Wildlife Fund survey of more than two dozen Chinatown stores found numerous medicinal products claiming to contain ingredients such as “tiger bones,” “rhino horns,” and “bear bile.” It is already illegal under federal and state law to sell these products, but the council said the measure is needed because officials do not have resources to investigate individual stores. Violators would be subject to fines of between $500 and $1,500.

All of the measures passed unanimously, with the exception of the inmate benefits bill. Four council members – Republicans James Oddo, Dennis Gallagher, Andrew Lanza and Democrat Peter Vallone, Jr. - voted against the measure.

The next stated meeting is scheduled for December 7, 2004.

For an archive of past meetings and council votes, visit Gotham Gazette's Searchlight.


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