Gotham Gazette

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New Bills: From Saving Energy to Preventing Choking

While the City Council continues to focus on construction hazards in the city, individual council members have kept their eye on other legislative prospects. They have offered common sense solutions to quality of life issues, proposals to conserve energy in the summer and various offbeat initiatives likely to flounder in City Hall.

This is just a sampling of the City Council bills introduced in the last month.

Family Leave Act

Nationwide, less than 10 percent of workers get paid time off to care for sick family members, according to the Working Families Party. Though the federal Family and Medical Leave Act offers 12 unpaid weeks, about two thirds of those eligible do not take the time because they cannot afford to, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Letitia James, the only council member elected on the Working Families Party line, introduced legislation (Intro 805) to give private employees 12 paid weeks off to care for sick family members. The bill would cover a range of relatives, from nieces to spouses. The party has proposed a similar measure on the state level.

James, who cares for her mother, said she has the discretion to leave work to take care of a family emergency. Others, especially those with both parents and children to care for, do not.

"I wanted to provide some relief for baby boomers and for others who are just juggling family and work," said James.

According to the bill, private employers would be able to use accrued sick time or disability to pay for the employees' time off. James said supporters have not yet studied the cost of the bill. Unlike the federal unpaid act, which applies to companies with more than 50 employees, James's bill does not have a restriction on the size of the business.

The legislation would also prevent employers from retaliating against employees, by terminating their positions, for example, because they take leave.

On the state level, the legislation would be funded by increasing disability insurance.

California, New Jersey and Washington State are the only states that offer paid family leave.

Sustainable Street Lamps

To reduce the city's consumption of energy, Councilmember Jessica Lappin of Manhattan introduced legislation (Intro 806) requiring the city replace its current street lamps with light-emitting diode street lamps.

Diode street lamps can reportedly reduce energy consumption by 70 percent. Other cities are testing similar technology.

Within one year of the bill's potential approval, according to the legislation, all of the city's street lamps would have to use diode bulbs.

Dangerous Foods

Approximately two years ago, a young child in Brooklyn choked to death on a grape. To increase awareness of choking hazards, Councilmember Domenic Recchia introduced legislation (Intro 807) requiring the labeling of food that are choking hazards.

Similar legislation was introduced in Albany in 2004 after a 3-year-old choked to death on a popcorn kernel.

Under the bill, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene would compile a list of foods that present a significant choking hazard to children ages 5 and below. Those foods would need to have a warning label.

A spokesman for Recchia said the Department of Consumer Affairs would be charged with enforcement. It is likely, he added, storeowners would be responsible for ensuring dangerous foods were labeled, not farmers or national vendors.

A cost analysis of the bill has not yet been completed.

Tracking the Emotionally Disturbed

After a series of incidents late last year involving mentally or emotionally disturbed individuals creating disruptions or acting violently, which in one incident led to the shooting of an unarmed man by police, calls for action trickled in from communities.

In response, Councilmember Peter Vallone introduced legislation (Intro 799) calling for the creation of a database, to be overseen by the New York Police Department and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, that would keep tabs on the "emotionally disturbed."

The database would include, at a minimum, the name, address and nature of the incident involving an "emotionally disturbed" person. It would file incidents where individuals were transported to a hospital.

According to the legislation, the police department made more than 87,000 radio runs in 2007 that involved an "emotionally disturbed" person.

A Vallone spokesperson said the database would help police and health officials spot trends and identify people who needed help.

Clean Elections

After an overhaul of the city's campaign finance legislation last year, Councilmember Tony Avella is looking to take the city's law one step further by decreasing limits to receive public financing.

Under the bill (Intro 803), which Avella has titled the "Clean Elections Law," City Council candidates would have to raise just $2,500, consisting of small donations from $5 to $100, to qualify for $100,000 in public financing for the primary and an additional $100,000 for the general election. The bill would also limit contributions that could be matched with public dollars to less than $100.

The legislation reduces overall spending caps for every city office and lowers public financing requirements for all citywide offices. In a prepared statement, Avella said the restrictions would reduce the influence of special interest money, which flood campaigns with large, bundled donations.

"Under the current system the playing field isn't leveled," said Avella in a press release. "It's actually tilted."

Under the bill, which has garnered one other sponsor, Councilmember Joseph Addabbo, City Council candidates would also have to commit to two debates.

Delaying Health Fines for Nonprofits

Under a bill introduced by Councilmember Vincent Gentile (Intro 791) nonprofits, including religious and cultural groups, would get extra time to remedy health code violations before paying a fine.

"The intention is not to exempt these organizations from following the law," said the councilmember's budget and legislative director, John Buckholz. "It's to reduce the financial burden that’s imposed on them."

Yellow Curb Cuts

While some parts of the city are covered with illegal curb cuts that slice away front lawns, Councilmember Michael McMahon wants to protect the legal ones.

Under a bill (Intro 797) introduced by McMahon, property owners would be allowed to paint their curb cuts yellow. It would be a clear warning sign to other parkers not to block driveways.

Taking the LEED on Capital Projects

Councilmember Joel Rivera introduced legislation (Intro 798) requiring capital projects comply with most standards of the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, an accredited measurement of green building.

Any project that receives partial or full funding from public coffers and costs more than $5 million would have to comply with some portion of the standards. As a project's cost increases, a contractor would have to comply with more standards under the bill.

Energy Efficiency Disclosure

A bill (Intro 800) introduced by Councilmember Al Vann would require any owner of a condominium, co-op or one to four family home notify prospective buyers of the property's energy efficiency, including the monthly cost of the electric bill for the previous two years.

Transparency at Children's Services

A bill (Intro 804) introduced by Councilmember Bill de Blasio would require the Administration for Children's Services submit quarterly reports to the City Council on day care closures and the average time it takes, from application to placement, for a child to receive daycare.


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