As a regular feature, Searchlight on City Hall looks at some of the new bills in the New York City Council. At the most recent meeting on April 5, 2006, council members introduced 15 new bills, many of which may never be passed into a law. Still individual council members hope their bills will at least generate public discussion - and result in some action - on the issues that concern them.
REVISITING STREET ELECTROCUTIONS
In 2004, a woman named Jody Lane was electrocuted when she stepped on a manhole cover while walking her dog in the East Village. In response, the City Council passed Local Law 44, which requires Con Edison to conduct routine inspections of wires and electrical infrastructure and make repairs within 24 hours. In addition, the Department of Transportation instituted random tests of electrical boxes and manhole covers on the city’s streets and sidewalks.
However, the legislation has not solved the problem. In recent months, more people and dogs have been shocked by stray voltage and others have been injured by exploding manhole covers. So the City Council is introducing another bill - known as the "Street Utilities Safety Act" (Intro 252) - in an effort to address the issue.
It would institute new requirements that companies maintain electrical-related covers to ensure that pedestrians are not exposed to stray voltage. It would also impose new penalties of $1,000 to $5,000 for companies whose electrical infrastructure is found to be dangerous.
IMMIGRANT VOTING RIGHTS
While the City Council has no official role in the immigration debate going on in Washington, some city lawmakers are trying to weigh in on the subject at the local level.
Councilmember Charles Barron has introduced a bill (Intro 245) that would give non-citizen immigrants the right to vote in local elections. The bill would apply to immigrants who have applied for citizenship, have "green cards," and have lived in New York for at least six months.
"From 1770 to 1920 immigrants were allowed to vote and when the complexion of immigrants changed, then the rules changed," said Barron.
According to the Department of City Planning, the city is home to 1.3 million non-citizens of voting age. While non-citizens pay taxes and are subject to other city laws, they are not allowed to choose their local elected officials. New York has a history of allowing non-citizens to vote on local issues: before the Board of Education was disbanded, non-citizen immigrants could vote in school board elections.
The bill, however, is not likely to become law any time soon.
Speaker Christine Quinn, who controls much of the council's legislative agenda and can effectively decide if a bill ever comes up for a vote, is opposed to the measure.
"I am not in favor of non-citizen voting," Quinn said at a press conference when asked about the measure.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said that giving non-citizen immigrants the right to vote in local elections would require a change in the State Constitution and would have to be passed by voter referendum.
Many hospitals in New York are struggling financially, and as a result, some are shutting their doors. Last year, for example, two hospitals in Brooklyn - St. Mary's and the Caledonian Division of Brooklyn Hospital in Flatbush - both closed.
As a result, Councilmember Letitia James has introduced a bill (Intro 251) that would require the department of health and the Economic Development Corporation to conduct a study on health care quality in neighborhoods that have lost hospitals.
The study would examine the "disparities in health care" received by city residents, as well as look into the impact of private hospital closures on publicly funded hospitals.
BANNING MILITARY RECRUITERS IN SCHOOLS
As the war in Iraq stretches on, military recruiters are struggling to find new applicants for military service. Councilmember Charles Barron, who is opposed to the war, wants to make it even more difficult. He has introduced a bill (Intro 246), which would prohibit military recruitment in New York City public schools and the City University of New York.
"Our black and Latino youth do not join the military for patriotic reasons," said Barron. "They go in for economic reasons to be cannon fodder for unjust wars. Let's opt the military out from our public schools."
Military recruiters target communities of color where students may see a military career as their best option, argues Barron.
Parents are often unaware that the under President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, schools must provide the military with names and addresses of all students, except for those who expressly request that their names be withheld from recruiting lists. The bill would also prohibit schools from providing information about students without the consent of a parent or guardian.
When a postal delivery person is unable to deliver a package, they often leave a sticker on the door to notify the tenant. This practice is an invitation to criminals, argues Councilmember Simcha Felder.
"Anyone who is a thief knows that the best house to rob is one with a sticker on it [because no one is home]," said Felder.
In an effort to address the issue, Felder has introduced a bill (Intro 247) that would prevent mail delivery personnel from placing "notification stickers" on the front doors of residences where no one is home. The bill would require delivery people to notify residents in a more discreet manner, perhaps with a note in a mailbox.
Felder and several colleagues introduced an identical bill in 2003, but it was never granted a hearing by the council.
According to city law, a landlord must repaint or re-wallpaper the walls and ceilings of an apartment at least once every three years. However, some tenants complain that this never happens or, if it does, the landlord does not give sufficient notice of when the painting will be scheduled.
To address the issue, Councilmember Miguel Martinez has introduced a bill (Intro 0254) that would require that landlords who wish to repaint an apartment must inform the tenant at least one month in advance.