Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics




City Council Stated Meeting - September 28, 2005

Every two weeks the New York City Council meets for its Stated Meeting to introduce and pass legislation. Gotham Gazette covers these meetings and posts a summary of the bills passed.

"[U]ndocumented immigrants have been mistreated and abused. This bill will be able to prevent that. It provides dignity for everyone, regardless of their status." - Councilmember Helen Sears on legislation to create job centers for immigrant construction workers.

"This is giving the official sanction… to illegal aliens. We are a body that makes the law. We should not be sanctioning breaking the law." - Councilmember Peter Vallone, Jr. in response.

Day laborers – immigrant construction workers who work for hourly wages wherever they can find a job - pose serious problems for the city and its residents.

The estimated 8,000 workers who struggle to find employment each day are often subjected to low pay, long hours, and hazardous working conditions.

Residents of the neighborhoods where day laborers congregate complain about men loitering on the corner, urinating in alleys, and harassing women.

In an effort to address concerns from both workers and neighborhood groups, non-profits in New York City have set up a handful of day laborer job centers. These facilities offer protections and better pay for workers and a specific location for construction crews to hire help.

The New York City Council wants to establish a commission to look into how more job centers could be developed across the city.

Councilmember Vincent Gentile from Bay Ridge, who helped draft the bill (Intro 592-A), said it was a "win-win."

"Laborers are protected," said Gentile. "And for the community, laborers are not congregating on street corners."

Councilmember Helen Sears from Jackson Heights, who also contributed to the bill, admitted that undocumented immigrants pose another difficult issue.

"While there are many day laborers who are undocumented, there are many who are not," said Sears. "And those undocumented immigrants have been mistreated and abused. This bill will be able to prevent that."

But Councilmember Peter Vallone, Jr. from Astoria objected to language in the legislation that would grant 12 of the 20 seats on the commission to immigrant day laborers or representatives of groups working with laborers.

"This is giving the official sanction... to illegal aliens," said Vallone, Jr. "We are a body that makes the law. We should not be sanctioning breaking the law."

Republican Councilmember James Oddo from Staten Island said he also had serious concerns about the bill, but because it is such a serious problem, he said he was "willing to take a leap of faith to see what they come up with" and vote for it.

The measure passed by a vote of 42 to 2. Peter Vallone and Dennis Gallagher voted "no."

The City Council voted unanimously to approve a new parking holiday to mark the Hindu celebration of Diwali.

Despite opposition from the Bloomberg administration, the council voted 44-0 in favor of Intro 420-A, which would suspend alternate side of the street parking rules for the Indian holiday, also called the "Festival of Lights."

Supporters argue that it is an important gesture to the Indian and South Asian community.

"This is a community which is large in civic affairs," said Councilmember Gale Brewer from the Upper West Side. "Diwali is a joyful and important festival."

The city's sanitation and transportation departments oppose the measure, arguing it sets aside one more day when the city cannot clean the streets. There are already 33 other such holidays, including Christmas, Yom Kippur, and the Muslim holidays of Eid Ul-Fitr and Eid Ul-Adha.

City Council Speaker Gifford Miller said that many of the parking holidays overlap or fall on the weekends, and he argued that the sanitation department has plenty of time to do its job.

"This mayor seems to want to find any conceivable opportunity to write tickets to anybody that drives a car in the city of New York," said Miller. "We try to give a little bit of relief and also to reflect the diversity of this city."


The Bloomberg administration said is reviewing the legislation; the council has more than enough votes to override the veto.

Diwali is a five-day celebration which occurs in the fall, usually in October or November. This year it runs from November 1 to 5. The parking holiday only applies to the third day of the celebration on the day that Lakshmi Puja is observed.

In 2002, the council passed legislation to suspend alternate side of the street parking rules on the Asian Lunar New Year, Purim and Ash Wednesday. Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed the legislation and the council overrode the veto.

The council also received two vetoes from Mayor Bloomberg.

The mayor rejected Intro 468-A known as the "Health Care Security Act," which would require grocery stores with more than 35 employees to contribute $2.50 toward health care for each hour an employee works, or $5,000 a year for a full-time employee. The council estimates that the legislation will apply to 300 grocery stores and ensure health care coverage for 27,000 workers. It also applies to large chain stores such as Wal-Mart that dedicate more than 10,000 square feet of their buildings to food.

The Bloomberg administration argues that it violates the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which limits state and local government involvement in employee benefits.

The mayor also vetoed a bill (Intro 699-A) that bars permits for so-called "stoop-line" stands -- sidewalk stands for fruits, vegetables, candy, ice cream or soft drinks -- unless the city certifies that they will not block pedestrian traffic.

Such regulations already exist, but the legislation puts new requirements on the Department of Transportation to enforce them.

The City Council has 30 days to override the mayoral veto by a two-thirds majority.




Mayoral Issue Grid: Immigrants

Mayoral Issue Grid


- Non-Citizen Voting?
- Drivers License Requirements?
-School Translators?

There is currently a bill in the New York City Council that would give non-citizen immigrants (who have residency in the city for more than six months) the right to vote in all municipal elections. Advocates of the proposal argue that the estimated 1.3 million immigrants living in New York City, close to 20 percent of the population, deserve to be represented locally in government if they are expected to pay taxes and live with the decisions of elected officials. In New York City, non-citizen residents were allowed to vote in school board elections before the boards were disbanded.

Since January 2004, the Department of Motor Vehicles has been sending letters to thousands of drivers informing them that there is a problem with the Social Security Number in their files. Drivers who cannot provide a valid Social Security number will eventually have their drivers’ licenses suspended and lose the ability to drive legally in New York State. The crackdown has resulted in the suspension of the licenses of 7,000 immigrants, but advocates said the number of immigrants affected could reach 300,000. Immigrant rights groups say the Department of Motor Vehicles should drop proof of immigration status as a requirement for applicants.

Immigrants rights groups have proposed granting citizenship to undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States for a period of time.

The New York City Council has proposed a bill called the Education Equity Act, which would require translation and interpretation services be provided to parents of children in the New York City public schools. It would also provide translation of report cards and interpretation at parent-teacher conferences.

Fernando Ferrer

Fernando Ferrer supports giving non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections. When asked about the bill, Ferrer responded in a written statement: “Non-citizen immigrants pay taxes, contribute to our economy, and are subject to our laws, but are not represented in our government. That is not right. Democracy thrives on allowing everyone access to their government.”

Ferrer’s position on what kind of information should be required for driver’s licenses has not been located.

Ferrer said if he had the power he would give amnesty to undocumented immigrants.

Ferrer said he would support translation services for parents of public school children.

Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg does not support giving non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections.

When asked about the bill, Bloomberg responded in a written statement: “Without question, our country’s current immigration system is broken and in dire need of an overhaul. However, I believe that the right to vote is at the very heart of what it means to be a citizen, and therefore I support government efforts to speed the process by which non-citizen residents can become citizens if they choose, so that they can become fully integrated in our country’s economic, social and democratic culture.”

Bloomberg’s position on what kind of information should be required for driver’s licenses has not been located.

At a recent gathering of New York's Caribbean and African leaders, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that undocumented immigrants should be able to stay in the country without having to worry about being caught and deported to their homelands.

The Bloomberg administration testified against the Education Equity Act, arguing that it would add burden and costs for the Department of Education.


- Non-Citizen Voting
- Citizenship and Voting
- Immigrants and Driver's Licenses 

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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