Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

New City Council Bills

At the most recent meeting on May 10, 2006, members of the New York City Council introduced 27 new bills, most of which will 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.

Here is a look at a few of the new bills that the council will consider in the coming weeks and months.

Next month, the city is scheduled to sell more than 300 new taxi medallions, but some City Council members are threatening to stop the sale unless the Taxi and Limousine Commission agrees to make more of the cabs accessible to people in wheelchairs.

Only 27 of the 13,000 yellow cabs on the road are currently handicap accessible, even though an estimated 60,000 New Yorkers use wheelchairs. A bill (Intro 340) drafted by City Councilmembers John Liu and Oliver Koppell would require that 154 of the 308 taxi medallions sold next month be set aside for wheelchair accessible cabs.

"We must begin providing taxis that will give individuals with disabilities and senior citizens a greater choice in terms of transportation and make sure that no one is left stranded," said Koppell.

It would also require that 154 new cabs be environmentally friendly, hybrid cars.

For the past 20 years, the city has limited the number of street vendor licenses that can be given out each year: 853 licenses to sell general merchandise and 3,000 licenses to sell food are distributed annually.

City Councilmember Charles Barron argues that street vending is one of the few occupations in which low-skilled New Yorkers can find work and that there should be no restriction on the number of licenses. Barron's bill (Intro 324) would remove the cap.

"If you're not going to supply jobs for people, and they have the where-with-all to create jobs for themselves, well don't limit them and say we're going to put a cap on how many food vendors can get a license," said Barron.

Supporters say it would benefit both workers and the city, which would collect as much as $27 million a year in taxes and fees. But opponents worry about more vendors clogging sidewalks.

By many measures, the 311-call line that Mayor Michael Bloomberg instituted in 2003 has been a success. New Yorkers are able to dial one number and be connected with the city agency that can best address a complaint. 311 receives more than 1 million calls each month, and three quarters of the calls are answered in 30 seconds or less.

However, the City Council and other elected officials have criticized the mayor for failing to share 311 data with the public.

A bill (Intro 325) introduced by Gale Brewer would require the Bloomberg administration to make 311 call data available on the official city of New York Web site in a searchable format.

The bill would also enable New Yorkers to send complaints to the 311-call center by e-mail or online interactive technology.

The Bloomberg administration and the City Council are looking to regulate pedicabs, for-hire bicycle taxis that for years have had few rules governing their operation on city streets.

At the request of the mayor's office, City Councilmember Leroy Comrie has introduced a bill (Intro 331) that would require pedicab owners and drivers to obtain licenses from the city and to carry insurance in case of accidents.

(Read an article by a pedicab driver on the issue.)

Some local officials complain that buildings in their neighborhoods - some that are in perfectly good shape or contain affordable apartments - are being torn down without their knowledge, so that developers can build new more expensive apartment buildings.

To address the issue, City Councilmember Letitia James introduced a bill (Intro 338) that would require the Department of Buildings, the agency that issues demolition permits, to notify the local council member and the community board if a building that is less than 75 years old is going to be torn down.

Councilmember Rosie Mendez has introduced a bill (Intro 340) that would institute additional requirements for the demolition of buildings that contain rent-regulated apartments.

For several years, Staten Island Councilmember James Oddo has been on a crusade to ban aluminum baseball bats from the city's little leagues. Baseballs can travel up to 120 mph when hit off of a metal bat, compared to about 90 mph when hit off of a wooden bat. Teenagers across the nation have been seriously injured and even killed by baseballs hit off of metal bats.

Oddo's bill (Intro 341), which was first introduced in 2002, would restrict the use of metal bats from competitive games for students high-school age and younger.

Some elected officials in the city like to take out advertisements in their local newspapers to wish their constituents a happy holiday, to announce the anniversary of some long-time friend, or to congratulate a local civic organization on their latest event. The problem with this practice, according to City Councilmember Tony Avella, is that taxpayers are paying for what is effectively an advertisement promoting the politician.

Avella introduced a bill (Intro 323) that would make it illegal for public officials to buy such newspaper ads with taxpayer money.


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