City Council Adopts Landmark Legislation Protecting Women, Tenants and Homeowners

The City Council voted to adopt three important pieces of legislation last week, which aim to protect, respectively, the rights of women, tenants and homeowners.  Melissa served as a co-sponsor of all three of these bills.

Protecting Women’s Rights: Pregnancy Services Center Bill

The Council voted to approve Intro 371, a bill which will require Pregnancy Services Centers to disclose whether or not they have a licensed medical provider on staff and whether or not they provide or refer for prenatal care, abortions and emergency contraception.  Under the bill, these centers must also inform women who are or may be pregnant that they are encouraged by the City’s Departmento of Health to consult with a licensed medical provider.  This legislation also protects the privacy of women who seek services at these centers.

Pregnancy Services Centers provide ultrasounds, sonograms and/or prenatal care to women who are or may be pregnant.  Though they are not licensed by the State of New York of the federal government to provide medical services, they typically have the appearance of a licensed medical facility.  A recent study found that these centers engage in tactics that dissuade women from exercising their legal right to choose to have an abortion, including providing them with misinformation or engaging in manipulation.

This legislation will not shut down Pregnancy Services Centers, but will ensure that women entering them are made aware of the services that they do and do not provide, while also ensuring that their information is kept private and confidential.  At the end of this post is a statement read by Melissa on the floor of the City Council in support of this legislation.

Protecting Tenants: The HEAT Act

The Council also adopted a bill sponsored by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio which will toughen penalties on landlords who are repeatedly found to deny heat and hot water to tenants.  The current law allows for a maximum fine of $500 per unit, per day for a first violation and a maximum fine of $1,000 per unit, per day for subsequent violations in the same building within the same calendar year.  The HEAT Act will extend those higher fines to two consecutive calendar years or heat seasons, rather than one year under current law.

Protecting Homeowners: Lien Sale Legislation

Finally, the Council adopted another piece of legislation re-authorizing the Departments of Environmental Protection and Finance to sell liens on properties with unpaid water bills or property taxes, but for the first time, with impotant new protections for vulnerable homeoners.  These protections include a standard zero-down payment plan, enhanced outreach to enroll homeowners in property tax exemption programs–for seniors, low-income New Yorkers, veterans, and others–that would remove them from a lien sale, and lower interest rates on smaller properties.  In addition, for the first time, HPD will be provided with an important enforcement tool against negligent landlords: the ability to place liens on properties where landlords owe money to the City for repairs that were covered by taxpayers.

Mayor Bloomberg is expected to sign all three of these bills.

Below is Melissa’s statement, as delivered on the floor of the City Council last week:

I rise in support of 371-A. The social structure of our country has embedded inequities that permeate throughout various areas of our lives.  Intro 371-A is one way in which we can positively address inequities in reproductive health, and lessen the power these centers have over women—and in particular women of color. The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health provides research that clearly shows that African American women and Latinas are more likely to be uninsured or underinsured and often lack basic access to birth control and comprehensive sex education due to fundamental structural inequities in society.

Our country is continuously being faced with controversial issues, and it is important that we embrace measures that promote choice and democracy versus exclusion and degradation. It is important we remain committed to justice in thought and action, and stray from archaic mindsets and theories. State Representative Lisa Shepperson and State Representative Sue Wallis are both female Republicans in the Wyoming legislature who have shed the burden of upholding Republican ideals that degrade me and all women and seek to strip me and all women of having the ability to chose for themselves what reproductive health options they will exercise. Instead, these two brave Republicans are standing up for women’s rights in order to ensure women maintain their ability to decide what happens with their bodies.

These women were bold enough to speak out against their party, which strives to limit government’s interference in personal and business matters, yet does not afford women and reproductive health the same respect.

I not only applaud Wyoming Reps Shepperson and Wallis, I applaud our Speaker and our colleague Council Member Lappin for their valor in standing up for women—particular women of color—in this city. In seeing this not as a pro-choice anti-choice issue, but as one that safeguards the health and dignity of a woman’s choice and upholding the justice we deserve. Thank you, and I urge my colleagues to vote in favor of
Intro 371-A.

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