Gotham Gazette

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Stated Meeting: The Next Round on E-Waste

With the City Council in the thick of budget hearings, there were not many bills to vote on at the May 15 stated meeting. The measures the council did pass, though, dealt with three persistent city problems: solid waste, traffic and construction safety.

Veto Override

The council's debate with Mayor Michael Bloomberg over how to deal with electronic waste moved to the next stage as council members overrode the mayor's veto of a bill that would require manufacturers of electronic products to meet certain benchmarks for the recycling of their products.

The measure was one of a series of proposals by City Councilmember Bill de Blasio designed to deal with what he has described as a "tsunami" of electronic waste.

In February, the council passed a single piece of legislation offering a variety of solutions to the problem. The mayor balked at a provision that would require manufacturers to eventually collect 65 percent of goods that they sell or face a $50,000 fine. Bloomberg argued that it did not make sense to put the onus for recycling on manufacturers. Speaking of the measure, he said, "We will not enforce it. And we don't have to enforce it because it violates a whole bunch of federal laws on interstate commerce."

In response, the council broke de Blasio's plan into two separate bills and passed both. Bloomberg signed one -- Intro 728 -- banning the disposal of electronic waste at curbside and requiring manufacturers to devise recycling plans. He vetoed the other -- Intro 729 -- which set the mandatory goals for recycling.

On Wednesday, the council by a vote of 45 to 3 overrode that veto. Councilmembers Simcha Felder, Vincent Ignizio and James Oddo voted no.

At the council meeting de Blasio argued the requirement for industry is essential. "Performance standards," he said, "make the industry move forward and recycle and make greener products."

At the press conference prior to the meeting, both de Blasio and Council Speaker Christine Quinn acknowledged that the administration would certainly not act despite the override.

"They are not going to enforce this bill, " Quinn said. "They believe we have overstepped our authority. They said environmental groups might take the dispute to court or that a new mayor - and there's almost certain to be one in January 2010 - might take a more kindly view of the measure.

At the press conference prior to the meeting, Quinn said in response to a question, criticized a court decision that, for all intents and purposes, lets the administration ignore council actions that it disagrees with, even in the face of an override.

Calling the court ruling "a ridiculous decision," Quinn said she looked forward to a future decision that "would give the veto override the power that it should have."

Monitoring Traffic

In other action, the council unanimously approved a bill -- Intro 199 -- to require the Department of Transportation to report every November on surface traffic in the city.

"As the city is booming, it's not moving," said City Councilmember Gale Brewer, who sponsored the measure. Compiling the data, she said, should enable city officials to know "where exactly are the places where traffic is not moving and what can we do to help it move."

The information, she said, "will give us the tools to be able to work on a sustainable plan."

The measure passed 48-0.

Scaffolding Safety

In what Quinn described as part of the mayor's and council's continuing effort to improve construction safety in the city, the council by a vote of 48 to 0, approved a bill requiring increased training for workers who build or install scaffolding. The measure -- Intro 547-A -- also mandates refresher courses.

With this bill, Quinn said, the city's requirements would exceed national standards and Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements.

Quinn said the measure, sponsored by Councilmember Erik Dilan, was "not the last piece of legislation you'll see coming from the council on construction safety." She declined, however, to say what other ideas might be on the way, saying there could be a "comprehensive package" of proposals.

Promise Keepers

With little of controversy on the agenda, many council members used their time on the floor to call on the Bloomberg administration to restore its proposed cuts in city funding for school. Education advocates packed the chamber balcony and prior to the meeting opponents of the cuts lobbied council members. During the meeting, many members sported buttons reading" Keep the Promise," a reference to the mayor's pledges on improving and funding public education in New York City.

Councilmember Robert Jackson, chair of the education committee, reiterated his pledge that he will not vote for a budget "that does not restore money to education, specifically to classrooms."


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