At each of the City Council's stated meetings, council members introduce bills, most of which will never become laws (for the process by which bills become laws, click here). As a regular feature, Gotham Gazette discusses some of the legislation proposed at each meeting.
Caregiver Status and Discrimination
The city would expand the field of people protected by discrimination on the job under a bill introduced by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, Councilmembers Bill de Blasio, David Weprin and Gale Brewer. Intro 565 would prohibit employment discrimination based on a person’s status as a caregiver responsible for a child or ill parent. The issue for such caregivers arises at work and when applying for jobs and often concerns such matter as compulsory overtime, schedule flexibility, opportunities to make phone calls and potential for promotion.
Gotbaum’s initiative was prompted by a phone call from John Dallas, a New Yorker who cared for his ailing mother for eight years. He contacted the public advocate’s office after her came under pressure not to leave work to tend to her and instead to send her to a nursing home.
A report by the Center for Worklife found that 57 percent of working caregivers have had to disrupt their work schedules to provide care. Another report by the Center for Worklife showed that New York is among the states with the most discrimination lawsuits arising from family responsibilities and that the East Coast region has the highest proportion of victories for plaintiffs in these cases. According to a 2004 report by the National Alliance for Caregiving mentioned in the text of the bill, over 20 percent of Americans and nearly two million New Yorkers care for family members or friends. De Blasio asserted that these caregivers need support and should not have to fear losing their jobs to tend to loved ones.
Intro 565 would amend the New York City Human Rights Law, which is among the most comprehensive in the nation, to add caregiver status to the list of traits that employers may not discriminate against. The most recent amendments to the human rights law added protections for partnership status in 2005 and for victims of domestic violence, sex offenses and stalking in 2003.
Currently, the District of Columbia is the only place in the United States to prohibit employment discrimination because of caregiver responsibilities.
Gotbaum also supports the state legislature’s Working Families Time to Care Act, which would provide temporary paid leave to an employee to care for a family member.
Enforcing Energy Conservation
The day after Earth Day and Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s speech on creating a sustainable New York, Councilmember Dan Garodnick introduced bill 564 to improve the enforcement of the state Energy Conservation Construction Code and to create stricter standards for projects not normally covered by the regulations.
The proposal would require specific and thorough documentation of a building, subsystems (such as lighting and ductwork) and equipment (such as escalators and plumbing) when substantial renovations occur. Currently, state regulations require that buildings undergoing reconstruction that affects more than half the structure comply with the Energy Conservation Code. By July 2008, this bill would extend that requirement to buildings with smaller construction projects and institute basic minimum standards for lighting, windows, heating, air conditioning and ventilation.
Also seeking to reform New York City construction, Bloomberg last week announced plans to reform the city’s building codes, which have been described as “Byzantine” and “Talmudic.” His proposals would especially apply to new construction projects with regard to safety, conservation and efficiency.
Councilmembers Lew Fidler and Michael Nelson introduced bill 563 to regulate the sale and use of personal watercraft, primarily jet skis. Current New York State Navigation Law requires riders in personal watercraft to wear life vests, not drive recklessly, stay at least 500 feet from designated bathing areas and not drive in the dark. The law also requires crafts to have proper engine ventilation and be equipped with a horn, hazard light and emergency break latch. The proposal would require buyers of the crafts to be at least 16 years old. For their part, sellers would need to demonstrate the vehicle’s safety features and keep the purchasers’ information on record. Without the cap and controversy of the pedicab regulations, this bill has received minimal if any coverage in the press.
Apologizing for Slavery
Councilmembers John Liu, Larry Seabrook and Robert Jackson introduced Resolution 824 that expresses “profound regret for slavery and historic wrongs rooted in racial and cultural bias.”
Though in the North, New York City had a long history of not only participating in the slave trade and profiting from slave labor, but also of having been reluctant to emancipate slaves.
An inclusive declaration, the resolution states, “African American, Hispanic-American, Asian American and Native American communities continue to suffer from financial and social inequities, patterns of housing segregation, deficiencies in educational resources, and de facto remnants of formerly codified racism.”
In discussing the resolution, Jackson emphasized the lingering impacts of slavery on African American New Yorkers, such as high incarceration rates and a lack of access to quality healthcare and education.
Councilmember Albert Vann cited the fact that freed slaves, “never received the 40 acres and a mule that was planned,” and added, “I think the least of what we can do is to apologize.”
The New York State Legislature also is considering a bill apologizing for slavery. These city and state apologies are relatively uncontroversial, but Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries admits that winning passage of his bill to create a reparations commission would be “tough.”
In April, the University of Virginia board passed a resolution apologizing for its use of slave labor. The states of Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland have made similar apologies, and Alabama and Florida are considering such resolutions.
Commemorating Religious Freedom
Councilmember Helen Sears proposed Resolution 825 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Flushing Remonstrance. This was the first exercise of freedom in religion in the United States, as the signers rebuked then governor of New Amsterdam Peter Stuyvesant for banning all religions except the Dutch Reform Church. A ceremony with descendants of the original signers is planned for December 27, 2007.
Street Names Redux
Twenty-nine council members introduced an amended street naming proposal that removed Sonny Carson Avenue from consideration. Bill 556 retained the other 51 thoroughfare recommendations.
Speaker Christine Quinn had called for removing Sonny Carson from the rest of the bill because he was “divisive.” No council members commented on the change during the April 24, but two members of the community board that made the initial recommendation to honor Carson described the removal of his avenue designation as “arbitrary and capricious” and are filing a lawsuit.”
Carson, a black activist who died in 2002, was heralded by for his civic work in the community and for his efforts against police brutality, but was also convicted of kidnapping in 1974 and was known for making anti-white statements and boycotting Korean groceries.
If Carson does eventually become an Avenue, he would not be the first controversial figure to receive such an honor. Gates Avenue is named after slave owners, and Corbin Avenue initially was named after an anti-Semitic real-estate developer and later renamed for a Revolutionary War heroine with the same surname. And, in another contentious honor, entertainer Al Jolson who frequently performed in blackface, may soon be inducted into the City Council Hall of Fame.
The City Council also proposed two resolutions concurring with a state legislative proposals and one seeking action. Resolution 37 supports a bill which would allow any registered nurse or midwife who is a member of the New York City Employee Retirement System to participate in the age 55 improved benefit plan, a retirement program for people in physically taxing professions.
Resolution 38 calls for the passage of a bill that would enable certain city employees who were laid off, specifically after the 9/11 cleanup, and later rehired to be able to buy back pension credits for the time of their suspension and be treated as continuously employed for the purposes of seniority and promotions.
In Resolution 823, the council urges the legislature to make Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage available to people eligible for social security disability insurance benefits.