NYC Council Passes Resolutions to Help Students Facing Exorbitant Student Loan Debt

We’ve all heard about the student debt crisis in our country. The New York City Council passed two resolutions on Monday related to our ballooning student debt. Melissa sponsored one of the two resolutions, in support of the Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren, which would reduce the interest rate of federal subsidized Stafford student loans for one year from the current 3.4% to 0.75%.

Want to show your support for reducing student debt? Click here to sign a petition by Senator Elizabeth Warren, in support of her bill, which would allow students to pay the same rate that banks pay to borrow money from the government for one year.

If Congress does not act before this coming Monday, the interest rates of all federal student loans will double from 3.4% to 6.8%, a move that would have devastating impacts across the country. The federal legislation supported by these Council esolutions can allow students to refinance their student loans as well as lower interest rates to those offered to U.S. banks by the Department of the Treasury.

Currently, over 38 million people have student loan debt obligations, amounting to close to $1 trillion. Over the last 10 years, student loan debt has quadrupled from $240 billion in 2003. With the planned increase in federal Stafford loans, more defaults are expected as currently, students are not able to refinance their loans.

“Our two resolutions send a clear message from New York City that we demand action in Congress on measures that will lower student loan debt. We must continue to invest in our young people without asking them to assume such a high level of debt in return, especially in today’s economy. The planned doubling of interest rates will only discourage prospective college students from seeking to better themselves through higher education. That is why I am supporting Senator Warren’s proposal to lower interest rates to the same level that banks pay for at least one year, as well as Senator Gillibrand’s legislation for a long-term fix. We cannot continue to be held hostage by forces in our country that want to do nothing else but impede our President’s agenda while turning a blind eye to our most vulnerable. Senators Gillibrand and Warren are both showing incredible leadership on this issue and I thank them as well as Higher Education Chair Rodriguez for ushering these resolutions to passage in the City Council.”

Advertisements

Intro 410: The Immigrants Voting Rights Bill

The New York City Council is holding a hearing today about Intro 410: The Immigrants Voting Rights Bill, which would allow 1.3 million voting-age, tax-paying New Yorkers to vote in NYC municipal elections. Melissa is a strong supporter of Intro 410, along with 34 other council members. This is a very exciting time in our city and will directly affect around 27,000 individuals in District 8 alone! You can watch the hearing live at 1 PM on the City Council’s website, or stop by the Council Chambers at City Hall to show your support.

Read more about Intro 410: El Diaro NY and ivotenyc.org

Council To Pass Melissa’s Street Vendor & Secure Communities/ICE Bills Tomorrow

We are happy to announce that two bills sponsored by Melissa will be passed by Council tomorrow.

vendy awards

STREET VENDOR BILLS (INTRO 16)

Intro 16 will require the reporting of data related to vendor licenses and permits, as well as the outcomes of vendor adjudications. This bill is integral to the future of the reforming vendor policy in NYC because of the information collected. In addition to Intro 16, Council Member Steve Levin’s bill, Intro 434, which Melissa has supported, will also be passed tomorrow. Intro 434 will cap the maximum fine at $500 and reform the unfair escalation of fines. These bills are a critical first step towards efforts to provide greater support to our vendor community who has played an essential part of the fabric of NYC life for generations. Today, punitive fines leveraged against vendors can easily add up into the thousands, making it nearly impossible for vendors to make a living.

“Our city needs to support and not criminalize our hardworking street vendors,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “I am proud that the Council is taking a stand to lower the punitive fines that make it difficult for vendors to earn a living and I thank the Street vendor project for their incredible advocacy. Under the bill I am sponsoring, the Council will receive annual reports on vending licenses and fines. My hope is that this data will help inform future policy changes to our city’s vending system. I thank Speaker Quinn, Council Member Levin and Chair Koslowitz for their leadership and support.”

uncoverthetruth.org

SECURE COMMUNITIES/ICE BILL (INTRO 989)

We’ve previously discussed our objection to Secure Communities in this blog. Melissa’s Intro 989 amends current law to ensure that immigrants that pose no danger cannot be detained by the Department of Correction. Intro 982, sponsored by Speaker Quinn and co-sponsored by Melissa, focuses on being detained by the NYPD. Whether we like it or not, we are still in the secure communities program. But with this legislation, we will not use our personnel or resources to hold immigrants that pose no danger to our city.

“Today, the Council reaffirms its commitment to protecting our immigrant communities,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “We will not allow our city’s resources to be used to facilitate the unjust deportations of hardworking New Yorkers that pose no threat to public safety. These pieces of legislation place limits on our city’s collaboration with the Secure Communities enforcement program, as we await Comprehensive Immigration Reform. I thank Speaker Quinn and Chair Dromm for their leadership on bringing this legislation forward, as well as the Bloomberg administration for their support. I also thank Make the Road New York and the Cardozo Law School for being a critical driving force in passing these important bills.”

Learn About NEW Local Legislation To Further Protect Arrested Immigrants, Next Thursday

Please join Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, The East Harlem Immigrant Service Network and Make the Road New York in learning about new local legislation that will further protect arrested immigrants on Thursday, February 21st, 9:15 AM at the Hunter School of Social Work.

The proposed City Council legislation will:

  • Further limit unfair deportations;
  • Build on existing local law and is meant to promote public safety and community engagement; and
  • Relieve damaging effects of the federal government’s Secure Communities initiative.

EHISN_flyer

WHO: Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, The East Harlem Immigrant Service Network, and Make the Road New York
WHAT: NEW Local Legislation To Further Protect Arrested Immigrants Informational Session
WHEN: Thursday, February 21, 2013. 9:15 (prompt) to 11:30 AM
WHERE: Hunter School of Social Work at East 119th Street and 3rd Avenue. Second floor classroom.
For more info and/or to RSVP, please contact Joe Pressley in the Office of Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito at 212-828-9800 or via email at jpressley@council.nyc.gov.  

Melissa Announces New Legislation To Protect Unjust Deportation of Immigrant New Yorkers

Today, Melissa joined her colleagues in announcing a new legislative action that will reduce the unjust deportations of immigrant families due to the federal Secure Communities program. Building on legislation sponsored by Melissa which became law last year, the two new pieces of legislation that will be introduced this month will limit the city’s ability to hand over immigrants who pose no threat to public safety for deportation proceedings. Melissa is the lead sponsor of one of the two new bills, which should receive a hearing within the first quarter of 2013. The other bill is sponsored by Speaker Christine Quinn.

Because of the current Secure Communities program in NYC, once an immigrant encounters the criminal justice system, they are at automatic risk of deportation. Under the current system, regardless of immigration status, age, criminal record or the accused crime, immigrants can be detained and deported – constantly living in fear. With this proposed legislation, the city would only be able to honor a detainer request from the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) if the person poses a threat to our city or has serious criminal charges pending. It would specifically ensure that immigrant youth and individuals that only have old or very minor convictions, or convictions directly related to their immigration status like driving without a license, are not funneled into the deportation system.

Melissa commented:

“New York City continues to be at the forefront of protecting our immigrant communities from unjust deportations. I am proud that this Council is again ushering through legislation that expands our city’s ability to have discretion in its collaboration with federal immigration enforcement. This legislation comes in response to the forced roll out of Secure Communities in our state, which threatens to funnel immigrant New Yorkers directly from central booking to deportation centers. We must extend to our police precincts the same protections we put in place in our city’s jails to prevent the unfair deportation of immigrant New Yorkers. We also want to strengthen the current law to ensure that immigrant youth and immigrants with old or minor convictions are clearly protected from deportation. I thank Speaker Christine Quinn and Immigration Chair Danny Dromm for their leadership, as well as Make the Road New York and the Cardozo Law School for their continued advocacy.”

479758_10101556643196359_1531710150_n

This legislation will surely serve as a model for other municipalities throughout the U.S. as we await for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level. We will keep you all updated on this piece of legislation.

Melissa Applauds Governor Cuomo’s Renewed Push for Marijuana Arrest Reform

Yesterday, Melissa issued the following statement in response to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s strong support of legislation that would end small-quantity marijuana arrests, calling for its passage and the passage of a minimum wage increase before considering pay hikes for legislators.

“I commend New York Governor Cuomo for urging the State Legislature to adopt what he calls ‘The People’s Agenda,’ which includes an end to unjust small-quantity marijuana arrests, before they consider a potential salary hike for legislators.

“I strongly support this principled act of leadership in the face of a hostile Republican State Senate which in the last session blocked legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view. This inaction has led to thousands more unjust stop-and-frisk arrests of young men of color when they are told to empty their pockets during stops. Enforcement of this policy costs the city an estimated $75 million each year.

“The new law would make marijuana possession merely a violation, like a traffic ticket, and not a crime that the police can arrest people for committing. Since there are currently over 50,000 annual stop-and-frisk arrests for small-time marijuana possession in NYC, this will dramatically reduce the unjust criminalization of our youth. Earlier this year, the New York City Council passed a resolution in support of this legislation, which I sponsored, and Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly have voiced their support of these reforms. The Commissioner even issued a directive to officers intended to slow down the number of marijuana arrests. Still, it is essential to codify this policy change at the State level, and I thank Governor Cuomo for taking this issue so seriously.

“I am also very pleased that Governor Cuomo is renewing the push to raise the state’s minimum wage, a vitally important measure which will help working families remain in New York City and the state during times of increasing poverty and income disparity.”

Let’s Implement the Community Safety Act!

Melissa, along with the Progressive Caucus and many members of the City Council, believe that there is a need for more police accountability in New York City. Progressive Caucus Member Jumaane Williams, with the support of the Progressive Caucus, is sponsoring four bills that collectively make up the Community Safety Act.

The Community Safety Act includes the following:

  • Int 0799-2012: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to requiring law enforcement officers to provide notice and obtain proof of consent to search individuals.
  • Int 0800-2012: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to prohibiting bias-based profiling by law enforcement officers.
  • Int 0801-2012: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York in relation to requiring law enforcement officers to identify themselves to the public.
  • Int 0881-2012: A Local Law to amend the New York city charter, in relation to establishing an office of the inspector general for the New York city police department.


Join us at one of the upcoming hearings:

Resolution in Support of the Restore the American Dream Act

This week, Melissa introduced a resolution in support of the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ Restore the American Dream for the 99% Act.

This legislation in the U.S. Congress, introduced by Reps. Ellison, Grijalva and others, would put Americans back to work, creating more jobs and improving the overall health of the American economy. The proposal would create an emergency jobs program to repair public schools and hire childcare workers, teachers, first responders and staff our national parks. Estimates suggest this could create as many as 2.3 million jobs in 2012, while also reducing the deficit. The bill would increase taxes for millionaires and billionaires, repeal tax loopholes for oil companies, and reduce spending by the Department of Defense.

To read more about the Restore the American Dream for the 99% Act, click here.

Taking a Stand for Police Accountability

Yesterday, I joined my Progressive Caucus colleagues Jumaane Williams, Letitia James, Brad Lander, Ydanis Rodriguez and others in standing up to keep NYPD accountable to New Yorkers. NYPD increasingly relies on stop-and-frisk tactics with a significant impact on communities of color. In 2002, the NYPD made approximately 97,000 stops. By 2010, the number of stops had increased to more than 601,000. Black and Latino New Yorkers face the brunt of this practice and consistently represent more than 80 percent of people stopped despite representing just over 50 percent of the city’s population. Moreover, stop-and-frisk practices have not increased public safety, as year-after-year nearly 90 percent of individuals stopped are neither arrested nor issued a summons. Bias-based profiling by the police alienates communities from law enforcement, violates New Yorkers’ rights and freedoms, and is a danger to public safety.

The bills we introduce will reform police practices to keep NYPD accountable by:

1. Prohibiting bias-based profiling by law enforcement officers that relies, to any degree, on actual or perceived race, color, ethnicity, religion, national origin, age, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, immigration or citizenship status, language, disability (including HIV status), housing status, occupation, or socioeconomic status.

2. Requiring law enforcement officers to identify themselves and the reason for questioning, and present a business card at the end of the encounter which will identify the name, rank, and command of the officer, and a phone number for the Civilian Complaint Review Board that the subject of the law enforcement activity may use to submit comments or complaints about the encounter

3. Requiring law enforcement officers to provide notice and obtain written or recorded proof of consent to search individuals. Many New Yorkers are unaware of their constitutional right to privacy when interacting with law enforcement officers.

We want to hear from you.

Have you been the victim of unaccountable police officers whose activity would not have been allowed under this law? Share your story.

New Year. More Progress.

Dear Friend:

I hope your holidays were both restful and full of cheer. As I looked back at our community’s many accomplishments in 2011, I couldn’t help but reflect on how hard we worked and how much it paid off.  In the coming year, I look forward to continuing to expand even further on the progress we are making in District 8.

What are your New Year’s Resolutions for our community?  Please leave them in the comments section below!

Last year, we engaged directly with local residents to help shape the future of our community.  The El Barrio/East Harlem Youth Violence Task Force, which was convened by my office, released its official platform, a plan to bring peace to our streets that was created in conjunction with our community’s youth.  Soon after the release of our platform, NYCHA finally opened the Johnson Center after over 10 years of community struggle.  Our community was also one of four in the city to take a major step towards democracy in 2011 as my office began implementing a Participatory Budgeting (PB) process in Council District 8. Through PB, community residents will decide how to allocate $1 million in discretionary funds towards capital projects of their choosing.

For our older residents, my office continued to make progress on developing El Barrio/East Harlem’s Age Improvement District, by working with the City to launch Senior Pool Hours at Jefferson Pool and to unveil several new benches on our sidewalks, which will provide a resting place for older adults as they walk outside.

And let’s not forget the citywide and national efforts to which we have contributed.  Like so many of you, I have became more motivated than ever to pursue economic and social justice in our community and our city. I marched alongside thousands of Occupy Wall Street protestors and was arrested for civil disobedience as a way of making a statement on the unconscionable level of economic inequality in our society. I was also proud to sponsor and see passed into law a bill that will help protect undocumented New York City residents from detention and deportation, which will help keep more families united.

Our accomplishments in 2011 have set the bar for a great 2012. We’re starting off on the right foot by celebrating Chinese New Year with our Chinese neighbors this month (more details to come). From there, the work continues. After another round of public meetings in February, we will hold the official Public Vote for the Participatory Budgeting process in late March.  And of course my office and the organizations that make up the Youth Violence Task Force will continue to lead the fight for safer streets, as we seek funding to implement the recommendations from our platform. In the coming months, I will also be fighting against City budget cuts and to bring more resources to our neighborhoods.

And as always, I will continue to be active on local issues of importance across our district.  Exciting and challenging times are ahead.

Please don’t forget to take a moment to share your New Year’s Resolutions for our community by leaving a comment below!

All the very best,
Melissa

Progressive Caucus Sponsors Resolution Declaring that Corporations Are Not People

The Progressive Caucus of the City Council has sponsored a resolution opposing the United States Supreme Court Citizens United decision, which gave corporations the same First Amendment rights as people (including the right to make unlimited contributions to political campaigns), and urging the U.S. Congress to pass an amendment to the Constitution rejecting this infamous decision.  Melissa is a co-lead sponsor of the resolution, which will be adopted by the entire City Council at a meeting today.

Restoring confidence in government and strengthening democratic participation is a core principle of the Progressive Caucus.  We believe that corporations should not share the same rights as people, that unlimited and unreported corporate donations meant to sway the electoral process should not be considered freedom of speech, and that the government should regulate the raising and spending of money by corporations intended to influence elections.

I want to thank Speaker Quinn and my colleagues for ushering this resolution to adoption. In this time of growing inequality in our society, which has been so powerfully vocalized by the Occupy Wall Street movement, the need to disentangle corporate interests from our democratic political process is more clear than ever. This Supreme Court decision does just the opposite and that is why we are calling on Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution to make clear once and for all that corporations are not people and therefore cannot make unlimited donations to political campaigns to exercise their influence.

As Justice John Paul Stevens recognized in his dissent in the Citizens United decision, “corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help facilitate and structure the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”

Tomorrow: Learn More about New Law Protecting Immigrants in NYC

Please join Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito’s Office and the East Harlem Immigrant Service Network for a community meeting tomorrow to discuss the City’s new law protecting immigrants at Rikers Island.  This law was sponsored by Melissa, and was recently signed by Mayor Bloomberg.  The event will take place tomorrow, December 15th from 9:30 am to 11:30 am at the NYC Department of Health (E. 115th Street and Lexington Avenue).

Melissa and the Network will be joined by guest speakers from Make the Road New York and the Cardozo Law School, who helped shape this landmark piece of legislation.  We hope you will be able to join us!

To RSVP or for more information, please contact Joey Pressley at 212-828-9800 or jpressley@council.nyc.gov.  Translation into Spanish will be available.

Autumn Updates from the City Council’s Progressive Caucus

As you may know, Melissa serves as the Co-Chair of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus.  Read the latest on what the Caucus has been up to in the Autumn updates below.


The Progressive Caucus of the New York City Council is excited to report on the work that we’ve been doing and to spread the word about upcoming events. It’s been a busy autumn, and we have a lot of news to share!

Receive this update from a friend? Sign up for our e-mail list.

Want a daily dose of the Progressive Caucus? Follow us on Twitter (
@nycprogressives), like us on Facebook, or visit our website!


Updates on The Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act

Save the Date: Many Voices, One Goal
The Progressive Caucus will be joining Living Wage NYC and faith, labor and community leaders to call for passage of the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act on Monday, November 21 at 6:30pm. Spread the word to your friends and neighbors and join us at Riverside Church!

Date Set for Public Hearing on the Living Wage
The City Council will be holding a public hearing on the revised living wage legislation on November 22 [10am at 49-51 Chambers Street]. The changes to the bill focus in on the main target of the legislation: large-scale retail developments. We’re looking forward to discussing the amended bill and taking the next step toward implementing this landmark legislation.

Supporting Occupy Wall Street
The Occupy Wall Street movement has captured the attention and imagination of our city and country. Members of the Progressive Caucus have joined the chorus of elected officials, labor leaders and our community allies in amplifying the call to action and invoking the right to freedom of speech and assembly. Read this recent op-ed in support of Occupy Wall Street by Councilmember Jumaane Williams.

Occupy for Education Election Day Rally
In response to overcrowded classrooms and cuts to vital programs, parents and educators are calling on the Governor to renew the millionaire’s tax and save our schools! On Election Day, members of the Progressive Caucus will be joining a rally organized by activist parents at Governor Cuomo’s New York City office (633 3rd Ave).  Come out on Tuesday, November 8th at 3:30pm to show your support!

In favor of a fair share tax, but can’t make it to the rally? E-mail Governor Cuomo today to say that you’re counting on him to do the right thing for New York’s working families!

Center for Working Families 2011 Policy Conference

The Progressive Caucus is a co-convener of this year’s Center for Working Families’ annual policy conference, which brings together advocates, organizers, policy makers and legislators to discuss progressive solutions to New York State’s most pressing problems. This year’s conference will feature a keynote address by Barbara Ehrenreich and discussions and workshops about green jobs, voter owned elections and progressive taxation. RSVP to join us on December 2nd!

City Council Holds Oversight Hearing on NYPD’s Intelligence Operations
The Progressive Caucus joined members of the Black, Latino & Asian Caucus, the Brennan Center for Justice, community groups, and civil rights advocates on October 6 to raise concerns about the New York Police Department’s infiltration of our local Muslim community and to call for more oversight of the NYPD’s intelligence operations. The Progressive Caucus actively participated in the City Council hearing that followed the joint press conference, and will continue to monitor this issue.

Rebuild the Dream

The Progressive Caucus has joined progressive organizations nation-wide in signing on as a partner to Rebuild the Dream, a hub for the emerging American Dream Movement. Rebuild the Dream recently worked with thousands of Americans to create the Contract for the American Dream, and supports many of the ongoing efforts to fulfill that dream here in New York. We’re excited to be a part of this movement.

Make the Road New York Marches Against Stop and Frisk

On October 13, members of the Progressive Caucus joined Make the Road New York in a march across the Brooklyn Bridge to call for an end to discriminatory policing, particularly stop and frisk. Councilmembers and advocates called for more accountability and transparency from the NYPD and an end to racially biased police practices.

Questions? Comments? Feedback? Contact the Progressive Caucus at nyccprogresscaucus@gmail.com

Congressman Gutierrez Visits New York as Melissa’s Immigration Bill Advances

Capping off an exciting weekend of events with Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez, the City Council held its first hearing this week on the bill introduced by Melissa that will limit immigration agents’ reach in our city’s jails.  The Bloomberg administration now supports the bill, paving the way for its passage by the end of the year.

Press conference outside of Ascension Church. Photo by William Alatriste.

This past Saturday, we welcomed Congressman Luis Gutierrez to New York City. He spoke at an event in Staten Island on the importance of immigration reform, emphasizing the impact of the Secure Communities program and the changes to federal policies on deportation.

On Sunday, Congressman Gutierrez joined Melissa, Speaker Quinn, Congressman Rangel, Make the Road New York, and many other electeds and community members at Ascension Church on West 107th Street in Melissa’s district.  Following the 9:30 am Spanish language mass, the elected officials addressed the congregants and then held a press conference outside to celebrate the advancement of Intro 656, a bill introduced by Melissa that will restrict the collaboration between the City’s Department of Correction and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Congressman Gutierrez spoke highly of the legislation and stressed the importance of local and national collaboration on immigration reform.

Video from Saturday and Sunday’s events are available by clicking here.

Finally, on Monday, the City Council held a hearing on Intro 656. This legislation is truly pathbreaking, and we hope that it will pave the way for municipal immigration reform all around the country.  The hearing included testimony from the Bloomberg administration that it stood in support of the legislation as the proper balance between ensuring the security of our neighborhoods and protecting our city’s immigrants.  The bill is scheduled to be passed before the end of 2011.

As lead sponsor of the legislation, Melissa had the opportunity to offer some opening remarks:

Thank you Chair Dromm, and thanks to all of you for being here this morning.  This is a historic day, as we take one more step towards making this legislation a reality in the city of New York.  I want to take a moment to thank Speaker Quinn who has shown great leadership on this issue and of course all of the advocates, especially Make the Road New York, for your commitment, strong support and hard work.

The message throughout this process has been clear: in a city that truly values its immigrant communities, it is clear that we can no longer allow immigration agents to have unfettered access to inmates at Rikers Island.  While the Criminal Alien Program, which is the basis for the relationship between DOC and ICE, claims to place public safety first and focus on the most dangerous criminals, the numbers tell a different story.

Of the Rikers inmates who had a detainer placed on them by ICE, around 50 percent had no previous criminal convictions; and only roughly 20 percent had a misdemeanor as their highest charge.  These are not the hardened criminals that the Criminal Alien Program was meant to target. Still, every year, hundreds and even thousands of New Yorkers are separated from their families and communities for extended periods of time and, in some cases, permanently. Continue reading

Learn About Redistricting Next Monday, September 19th

Due to changes in the size and composition of our population as counted in the Census and as compared to other states, New York is required to redraw the boundaries of some electoral districts, particularly Congressional Districts.  Next Monday, September 19, from 6-8pm, Melissa will convene a meeting, in conjunction with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Hispanic Federation, to discuss redistricting’s effects on our community.

The event will take place at Union Settlement Association’s Community Center on 104th street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Please join us to learn about these important changes and to voice your concerns in time for the upcoming New York State Legislative & Congressional Redistricting hearing, to be held on September 21, 2011.

Restricting Local Immigration Enforcement and Pushing Back on Marijuana Arrests

Melissa introduced a piece of legislation and a resolution in the City Council today that focus on critical issues in our criminal justice system: the presence of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in our city’s jails and the rampant arrests for the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Restricting the City’s Collaboration with ICE

Melissa speaks at press conference announcing the introduction of this legislation (Photo by William Alatriste).

The historic piece of legislation introduced by Melissa today, along with Speaker Christine Quinn and Council Member Danny Dromm, will place limits on New York City’s ability to collaborate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in our city’s jails.  Thousands of immigrants are deported each year after being sent to our local jails.  The Department of Corrections routinely shares databases of new inmates with ICE, which include information on country of origin.  Armed with this information, ICE places “detainers” on those inmates they suspect to be non-citizens.  After an interview and further investigation, if an immigrant is determined to be “deportable,” he or she is sent to a detention center and is often removed from the country.  Over the last two years, only about half of the detainers issued were for immigrants that had no criminal convictions, and 38% of those individuals had a misdemeanor as their highest immediate charge.

This legislation would prohibit the use of City resources (including space, personnel and funds) to honor detainers on those immigrants that have no criminal records, outstanding warrants or previous orders of deportation, do not have a pending criminal case and have not been identified as a confirmed match in the terrorist screening database.  Under this legislation, City resources could not be used to hold an individual who meets this criteria beyond the time when he or she would otherwise be released, nor could the City notify ICE of his or her release from custody.  We expect to have a hearing on this bill in the fall.

Calling for Changes to State Law on Marijuana Arrests

Tens of thousands of people, primarily from Black and Latino communities, are arrested each year for small-time marijuana possession, even though it was de-criminalized by the State in the 1970s.  However, a loophole allows police to make arrests for marijuana possession if it is in public view.  Police often ask individuals to take out what would otherwise have been concealed marijuana, leading to an arrest.  For the 50,000 plus arrests last year, the estimated cost to taxpayers was over $75 million.  This year, the city is on target to reach nearly 60,000 arrests.

Since the City Council does not have the power to legislate, Melissa has introduced a resolution calling on the State Legislature to enact a bill already introduced by Senator Grisanti and Assemblyman Jeffries that would close the loophole on marijuana arrest policy.

Latinos Unite to Make Final Push for Marriage Equality

Latino elected officials and community leaders united again yesterday to make a final push for marriage equality.  Legislation that would allow same-sex couples to marry has already passed the New York State Assembly, and just one more vote is needed in the Senate for full passage.  The rally and press conference was held at the LGBT Community Center in the West Village.  Puerto Rican human rights activist Pedro Julio Serrano emceed the event, which also featured Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Rosie Mendez, the bill’s sponsor Senator Tom Duane and actor Wilson Cruz.  Two same-sex couples, Maribelle Vázquez and Sophia Pazos, as well as Henry Velandia and Joshua Vandiver, also shared their personal stories to make the case for marriage equality.

Check out all the coverage of yesterday’s press conference:

 

Council Members Respond to Comments by Mayor’s Spokesperson on City’s Marijuana Arrest Policy

New York City Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Jumaane Williams and Letitia James issued the following response to comments made by Frank Barry, a spokesperson for Mayor Bloomberg, regarding the city’s marijuana arrest policy and pending legislation at the state level (S.5187 / A. 7620) that would de-criminalize the public display of small amounts of marijuana. The comments were published in New York Times’ columnist Jim Dwyer’s piece on Wednesday, June 15th (available at http://nyti.ms/mjjV2I).

“The responses provided by Mayor Bloomberg’s spokesperson, as quoted in The New York Times, provide further evidence of how disconnected Mayor Bloomberg is with Black and Latino communities. No matter how much the administration thinks that arresting youth for what amounts to low-level marijuana violations is helping to stem violence, this could not be further from the truth. These arrests only serve to engender distrust between low-income communities of color and the NYPD, which will only undermine the Police Department’s efforts to address real crime in our neighborhoods. In a time of limited resources, the NYPD should be focusing on violence that impacts our communities, rather than on the overzealous enforcement of low-level marijuana violations, which has already been de-criminalized by the state.

“Efforts are currently underway at the state level to de-criminalize the public display of small amounts of marijuana. In stating that this bill will lead to the proliferation of ‘open-air drug markets’ on our streets and the ‘reversing (of) successful efforts to clean up neighborhoods,’ the administration is employing scare tactics, which should not be tolerated. Let us set the record straight. This legislation will do nothing to legalize the open sale or possession of large amounts of marijuana, but will close a loophole in the law that criminalizes tens of thousands of our young people each year, when they are asked to remove small amounts of marijuana from their pockets, and then arrested on the grounds that it was exposed to public view.

“According to data released yesterday, the NYPD is on target to make 60,000 marijuana possession arrests this year—more than any other year in history. Although statistics show that Caucasian youth make up the majority of marijuana users, almost 90% of those arrested in recent years have been Black and Latino youth. This is nothing short of a race-based policy of enforcement, and it must be stopped. We call upon the Mayor to support the bipartisan legislation introduced in the State Legislature by Senator Grisanti and Assemblyman Jeffries.”

Council Members Call on Mayor to Take Public Position in Support of Strengthening and Renewal of Rent Laws

Melissa spearheaded a joint letter sent by 23 Council Members to Mayor Bloomberg yesterday, urging him to take a public position in support of the strengthening and renewal of rent protections for New York City residents.  Though there is less than a week left in the legislative session in Albany, the Mayor has remained silent on this pressing issue for millions of our city’s families.

While there has clearly been a strong, consistent chorus of City elected officials and community groups from throughout the five boroughs in favor of rent stabilization, your voice has been notably absent from the debate.

It is disappointing that you have not yet spoken up in favor of rent reform, considering that half of our city’s rental units are covered by rent regulations, translating to over 2.5 million individuals who are able to remain in their homes and neighborhoods as a result of lower rents and eviction protections.

You can view and download the full letter below or by clicking this link:

Melissa Speaks Out Against Five Borough Taxi Plan

Melissa joined a large protest of livery cab drivers and base owners on Monday morning who were speaking out against the Bloomberg administration’s latest Five Borough Taxi Plan.  The administration is seeking to expand street hail service in the outer boroughs and Manhattan above 96th Street, where yellow cabs do not typically pass, creating a market in these areas for illegal street pick ups by livery cabs.

Photo by Michael Appleton/The New York Times

However, the Bloomberg administration’s plan aims to sell new yellow cab medallions, which come with licenses for a new class of livery cabs that have the ability to do street pick ups in the outer boroughs.  Livery base owners, who have traditionally provided pre-arranged cab services in communities underserved by yellow cabs, worry that they will be displaced by this new plan, while current livery drivers have expressed strong concerns that the $600,000 to $900,000 cost of these new medallions is far out of reach for them.

This plan requires Council approval and Melissa and several of her colleagues have pledged that they would not support the plan as it stands.

Latino Elected Officials, Clergy & Community Organizations Unite for Marriage Equality

Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Rosie Mendez led a press conference today featuring Latino elected officials and community organizations standing in support of marriage equality in the State of New York.  Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez and many other Latino elected officials, along with the Hispanic Federation, Make the Road New York, UPROSE, El Puente, Alianza Dominicana and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.  Also attending the press conference was Reverend Fabian Arias of Zion Lutheran Church in El Barrio/East Harlem, who offered his support for marriage equality.

This coalition of Latino leaders called upon the State Legislature and the Governor to pass marriage equality legislation immediately.  A recent poll found that a majority of Latinos in New York State supports marriage equality.

Look out for video and additional photos from today’s press conference tomorrow!

Joint statement on marriage equality by Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Rosie Mendez, Congresswoman Nydia Veláquez, State Senators Gustavo Rivera, Martin Malavé Dilan, Adriano Espaillat, José Peralta and José M. Serrano, Assembly Members Carmen Arroyo, Guillermo Linares, Felix Ortiz, José Rivera, Peter Rivera and Robert J. Rodriguez, and Council Members Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Julissa Ferreras, Annabel Palma, Diana Reyna, Joel Rivera and Ydanis Rodriguez:

“We raise our voices as Latino/a elected leaders in strong support of marriage equality in the State of New York. It is unacceptable that our state’s same-sex couples are being denied a myriad of rights and benefits that come from having a relationship recognized by the state as a marriage. A bill legalizing same-sex marriage is long overdue, and we stand united and ready to fight for its passage in the current legislative session.

“Some religious and political leaders in our communities are currently engaging in efforts to mobilize Latinos against marriage equality and to define the debate in terms of their own religious convictions. Their cries of intolerance have been heard loud and clear, but cannot silence those of us who stand strongly on the side of justice and fairness for all New Yorkers, regardless of their sexual orientation.

“The right to marry is a fundamental civil right that should not be denied to any two adults who choose to share a life together in our state.  As Latino elected leaders representing communities that continue to experience a range of injustices, we are especially conscious of our responsibility to ensure that all members of our society have the same rights and protections under the law.  We believe that anything short of marriage equality relegates our LGBT brothers and sisters to being second-class citizens.

“We understand the important role that religion plays in the lives of our constituents and our communities.  However, this is a debate that is civil in nature.  The legislation to make marriage equality a reality in our state seeks to promote acceptance and equitable treatment of the LGBT community under our state’s laws, and does not dictate to our communities and religious institutions what beliefs and practices they adopt.

“Like in all communities, the Latino community is not a monolithic block that agrees on every issue, including the issue of marriage equality.  It is for that reason that we come together as Latino/a elected officials to voice our support for marriage equality. We could no longer allow our voices and the voices of a majority of Latinos who according to polling do favor marriage equality, to be drowned out by those who are so vocally opposed to granting this basic civil right.”

Melissa Joins Rally Against NYPD’s Marijuana Arrest Practices

Melissa joined a rally held by VOCAL-NY near Mayor Bloomberg’s home to criticize the NYPD’s aggressive marijuana arrest practices, which disproportionately target communities of color and cost the City at least $75 million per year.  Watch the video above for Melissa’s remarks at the rally.

Photo by Angel Franco/The New York Times

In the 25th Precinct (East Harlem), there were 1,069 low-level marijuana arrests in 2010, compared to just 34 in the 19th Precinct where the Mayor lives.  Melissa is currently drafting a City Council resolution in support of bipartisan legislation introduced in the State Legislature that would de-criminalize displaying marijuana in public view.  Currently, possession of small amounts of marijuana is already de-criminalized under State law.  However, when police perform stop and frisks, they routinely ask that individuals empty their pockets.  If they take out marijuana, it is considered to be in public view and can be punished by arrest.

Click here to read more background information in the full press release.  Below are links to the press coverage from the event:

Melissa Chairs Hearing on the Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) Program

New York City Parks Enforcement patch

Image via Wikipedia

Melissa chaired a hearing on the City Council’s Parks & Recreation Committee on Wednesday regarding the Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) program.  The hearing focused on the disparities in the allocation of PEP officers among different parks and communities as well as workplace issues faced by the officers.

PEP officers are unarmed peace officers, who enforce the rules of our parks and are empowered to issue summonses for quality of life offenses, as well as disorderly conduct and unlawful possession of weapons.  They also review park facilities for health and safety issues.  There are currently 92 PEP officers to cover over 28,000 acres of parkland, with an additional 83 officers that are contracted by conservancies and other private entities to work in specific parks.  There are often just a few at-large officers on duty at any given time for the entire borough of the Bronx, whereas in a single park in communities of greater means, there might be a dozen.

Melissa and other members of the committee stressed the need for more resources for the PEP program so that these officers can cover more parks, particularly at a time when the City is seeing an increase in crimes committed on parkland.  Melissa also highlighted that the practice of contracting with private entities that are able to purchase increased security from the department while the majority of other parks go unsupervised sets up a two-tiered system in our public parks.

The hearing also focused on the issues that PEP officers face as a workforce. Several officers came to testify about the difficult and dangerous jobs they do, including doing car stops and removing homeless individuals from parks, without the help of the NYPD or the Department of Homeless Services. They asked for greater numbers of PEP officers and more support to help make our parks safer.

In the coming months, the Committee plans to hold another hearing jointly with the Public Safety Committee on crime in parks, which will continue to examine these issues.

Coverage of Wednesday’s hearing:

Watch Melissa Debate Living Wage Policy at the CUNY Forum

Melissa participated in a discussion on living wage legislation at The CUNY Forum in September (the video was only recently uploaded on YouTube).  Moderated by CUNY-TV’s Bob Liff, the panel also included Jeff Eichler from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), Professor Fred Siegel from the Manhattan Institute and Professor Stephanie Luce from the Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies at CUNY.

The discussion focuses on proposals introduced in the City Council to require that living and prevailing wages be paid in buildings receiving City economic development subsidies.

Council Members Viverito & Dromm Reject Claims by Mayor’s Office Regarding the Collaboration of DOC with ICE

Yesterday, the Mayor’s Senior Policy Advisor wrote a letter to New York Times reaffirming the administration’s support of the collaboration between the City’s Department of Corrections and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  The letter is available by clicking here.  Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Danny Dromm have issued the following statement in response to Mr. Feinblatt’s letter:

“This year the New York City Council has worked diligently to understand the complex issues surrounding the Department of Corrections’ (DOC) current entanglement with federal civil immigration enforcement efforts. It is regrettable that the Mayor’s Office has refused to engage with the City Council in an honest dialogue aimed at developing a sensible and balanced immigration policy for DOC. Instead, as exhibited by a recent letter to the New York Times authored by the Mayor’s Senior Policy Advisor, the Mayor’s Office has distorted the facts and has relied on the ugly politics of fear.

“The facts are that DOC’s current policy is to transfer anyone and everyone the federal government wants to deport into the deplorable immigration detention system, whether or not they pose any real threat. The claim by the Mayor’s Office that this is a public safety issue is in direct conflict with DOC’s actual policy. DOC’s policy does not distinguish between people convicted of serious felonies and those convicted of non-violent misdemeanors. In fact, it does not even distinguish between people who are found innocent and people who are guilty. DOC routinely transfers New Yorkers with no criminal record whatsoever into immigration detention. In his letter, the Mayor’s advisor acknowledged that half of the people affected by this policy have no criminal record. The effect of this policy is painfully exhibited in the case of wrongful arrests, such as a recent case involving the victim of a gay bashing incident who was later exonerated but now faces deportation because of DOC’s policy. Once DOC transfers someone into the custody of federal immigration authorities, most New Yorkers are shipped thousands of miles away to detention facilities in Texas and Louisiana, where they lack access to counsel and cannot effectively defend themselves.

“New York City is spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars every year to subsidize the broken immigration system. We take seriously our obligation to preserve public safety. But we also take seriously our obligation to protect the immigrant families and communities of this city. It is time for the DOC to develop a sensible and balanced policy that stops sending those New Yorkers who pose no threat to society into this deplorable system.”

City Council Passes Legislation on Energy Efficiency and Snow Response

The City Council passed two packages of legislation last Wednesday, one aimed at improving energy efficiency in our city’s buildings and the other to address the slow clean-up following the December 2010 blizzard.

Solar and Cool Roofs Legislation
This package of legislation seeks to encourage owners of existing buildings to reduce emissions and increase the usage of renewable energy.

  • Intro 341: Removes some of the barriers to installing large solar thermal panels on rooftops, by allowing solar thermal and solar electric collectors and/or panels and their supporting equipment to take up more than 1/3 of the area of a roof without being considered an extra floor.
  • Intro 358: Provides a legal definition for ‘combined heat and power systems’ as equipment that simultaneously produces electricity and heat from a single fuel source and reaffirms that these rooftop structures shall not be considered an additional story or be included in the height of the building.
  • Intro 347: Strengthens standards for cool roof coating, which involves covering roofs with white reflective material, rather than the traditional blacktop.  Doing so keeps buildings cooler, thereby reducing emissions during the summer months and improving air quality.  Under this bill, owners who choose to make this improvement to their buildings will have to adhere to the new standards so that the maximum benefit is derived.

Snow Response Legislation
This package of bills was introduced after the infamously slow response on the part of the Bloomberg administration to the December 2010 blizzard.  These pieces of legislation seek to ensure that such a poor response does not happen again.

  • Intro 498: Requires the Commissioner of the NYC Office of Emergency Management to develop certain protocols around how the office should respond when the national weather service forecasts severe weather conditions, including whether to contact other relevant city, state or federal government agencies for emergency assistance
  • Intro 505 – The public will now be notified by city agencies as to the status of government services, such as solid waste collection, public transportation, and the operation of schools in severe weather conditions or other emergency.  The public is to be notified through a website and other media intended to reach the widest population possible.
  • Intro 528: 311 will now have to provide tracking information for each complaint and a unique identifier for each call taker, as well as implement a protocol to deal with high call volume during weather emergencies.
  • Intro 508 – Each year, the commissioner will make available to the Council and on on the city’s website a detailed report about the city’s preparation for and response to all snow events during the preceding 12 month period, including the roles of various relevant city agencies, an assessment of the city’s performance and an inventory of all snow removal equipment.
  • Intro 511 – The Department of Sanitation will assist organizations to establish registries of volunteers to help remove snow on behalf of persons who can’t, due to infirmity, illness or physical incapacity.
  • Int 517 – Each year, the Commissioner will make available to the Council and on the city’s website a snow plowing and removal plan for each borough, including, but not limited to, the level of snow removal staffing per borough, an inventory of snow management equipment, the priority designations of each street in the city (primary, secondary or tertiary), and how the department plans to address snow and ice removal from curb cuts and bus stops.

While the Bloomberg administration initially opposed all of the snow response bills, after negotiations, the Mayor is planning to sign all of the measures into law.

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.

Melissa Introduces Resolution Calling for the Reinstatement of Congressional Voting Rights to Puerto Rico, Washington D.C. and U.S. Territories

Melissa introduced a resolution on Tuesday calling on the U.S. Congress to reinstate the voting rights of the Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner and other delegates.  Previously, the Resident Commissioner and delegates from Washington D.C., American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands had the ability to vote on amendments.  Under the new Republican-controlled Congress, one of the first resolutions passed by the House of Represenatives removed those already limited voting rights, which they have held since 1993. 

As El Diario/La Prensa recently wrote in an editorial, “The bogus argument that states and territories should not be on equal footing in the House is a thin mask for the partisan political agenda to further marginalize the territories. Nearly all of the delegates are Democrats.  In playing politics, Republicans are ignoring a long, historical truth that they have had a part in: U.S. citizenship was cast on Puerto Ricans, who were denied the right to choose their status. So the island should not be penalized for a situation it did not hatch.”

The resolution is expected to have a hearing before the Council’s Cultural Affairs Committee in the coming weeks.

Student Safety Act Moves Toward Passage in the City Council

Photo by William Alatriste.

After years of debate, amendments and negotiations, the Student Safety Act is finally moving toward passage in the City Council.  The Student Safety Act requires reporting on disciplinary actions taken against NYC public school students, by safety agents and the police.  This legislation was first introduced in 2008 by Council Members Robert Jackson and Melissa Mark-Viverito in response to increasing allegations of misconduct by some school safety agents, and the effects that excessive discipline was having on young people.  For example, middle school students have been arrested for scribbling on their desks, and a five-year-old was handcuffed and sent by police to a psychiatric ward after misbehaving in school.

Yesterday, Melissa joined the Speaker, Council Members and dozens of youth in rallying for the passage of this bill.  It is currently passing the final hurdles of the legislative process and is expected to pass the City Council at Monday’s Stated Meeting.  See below for video from yesterday’s rally:

Once this bill get signed into law, the Council will receive regular reports detailing:

  • the number of students who are suspended, broken down by school, as well as indicators such as race, ethnicity, gender and age, as well as special education and English language learner status; and
  • the number of arrests and summons issued in schools, including the charges that led to these arrests and summons and whether they were misdemeanors, felonies or violations.  This data will also be broken down by the indicators mentioned above.

Click above to open video from NY1.

“I am very pleased that the Student Safety Act is headed toward passage by the City Council, after several years of advocacy and negotiations,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “This bill will equip the Council and advocates with the information we need to ensure that DOE disciplinary policies and the actions of school safety agents are promoting not only the safety, but the dignity of our students. I thank Speaker Quinn and Council Member Jackson for their leadership on this issue, as well as all of the young people and advocates who have worked so hard for this important victory.”

Progressive Caucus Applauds Study by Center for American Progress on the Benefits of Higher Wage Standards

*** For Immediate Release ***

Contact: Rachel Goodman (Lander) 646-319-8665, rgoodman@council.nyc.gov
Joseph Taranto (Mark-Viverito) 917-535-5531, jtaranto@council.nyc.gov

Progressive Caucus Applauds Study by Center for American Progress on the Benefits of Higher Wage Standards

Caucus Members Call for Passage of Legislation to Ensure that Taxpayer-Funded Subsidies in NYC Create Good Jobs

New York, NY – Members of the New York City Council Progressive Caucus hailed today’s release by the Center for American Progress of “Creating Good Jobs in Our Communities: How Higher Wage Standards Affect Economic Development and Employment.” The Progressive Caucus welcomed the study’s findings, and called for passage of two key pieces of legislation to insure that taxpayer-funded subsidies in New York City are used to create good jobs. The study is available at http://www.americanprogressaction.org/issues/2010/11/living_wage.html

Too often, taxpayer-funded subsidies and incentives – issued in the name of job creation and economic development – are used by developers and corporations to create low-quality jobs that pay poverty wages and provide no benefits. To combat this problem, cities across the country have adopted wage standards to make sure that when businesses receive subsidies, they are required to pay their workers family-supporting wages.

The new study released today by the Center for American Progress (CAP) finds that wage standards do not have a negative effect on job creation.  Cities that have applied these standards saw the benefits of family-supporting jobs, and still maintained the same levels of employment growth as a comparable group of cities without wage standards. This study proves that, despite arguments from the opposition to the contrary, it is not necessary to compromise job growth for job quality.

The Progressive Caucus called for passage of two bills before the New York City Council that would apply wage standards of the type studied in the CAP report:

  • Intro 18 (sponsored by Progressive Caucus co-chair Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito) would require owners of buildings receiving financial assistance from the City to pay a prevailing wage to their building-service workers.
  • Intro 251 (sponsored by Progressive Caucus member Council Member Annabel Palma and Council Member G. Oliver Koppell) would require companies receiving economic development benefits to pay a living wage to all workers in the project.

“With nearly a third of all New Yorkers struggling to make ends meet, New York must do more to help create good, family-sustaining jobs,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, Co-Chair of the Progressive Caucus.  “If developers want large hand-outs from the City, they should commit to doing right by the New Yorkers who are helping finance these lucrative projects.  In passing the Good Jobs Bill and the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, we as a City will be putting our foot down to end the practice of subsidizing poverty-wage jobs.  I stand with my colleagues in calling for the passage of these two critical measures.”

“The Center for American Progress report clearly illustrates the great potential of the Prevailing Wage and Living Wage bills,” said Council Member Annabel Palma.  “The report debunks the theory that these bills would hurt our city’s competitiveness and confirms that, if enacted, both Prevailing Wage and Living Wage would provide thousands of New Yorkers access to the well-paying jobs they need and deserve.”

“Public subsidies should create quality jobs not poverty wage jobs,” said Caucus co-chair Council Member Brad Lander. “This is really a pretty simple idea, and I am pleased that the Center for American Progress study shows that this common sense policy doesn’t cost cities jobs.”

“Economic development that receives public funds must be responsible and create good jobs for its workforce,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. “Our city should never subsidize poverty level jobs. These two pieces of legislation are the right thing to do.”

The Low Road vs. the High Road

The Caucus also highlighted “low road” and “high road” economic development projects in New York City.  High road projects create good jobs, with health benefits, to help grow the city’s economy and create widely shared prosperity.  Low road projects create jobs with poverty-level wages, enabling developers to make money on a project without sharing the benefits with their workers.

  • Low Road:  The redevelopment of Albee Square Mall into “CityPoint” has received City subsidies for the development of a shopping mall in Downtown Brooklyn, the city’s third largest business district. Under the current agreement there are no labor standards, opening the door for low-wage retail jobs with few employment protections.
  • High Road:  The Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center received City subsidies to rehab a loft building in East Williamsburg that will house over 100 well-paying manufacturing and industrial jobs.

Wage standard legislation would ensure that NYC subsidies are only used for high road projects, with good jobs for working families.  The CAP study shows this to be the more responsible route, so that communities can encourage investment in good jobs without a negative effect on job growth.

“Creating jobs doesn’t have to mean a race to the bottom—job quality and job quantity can go hand in hand,” said Council Member Letitia James.


The Fight Continues for Improved Wage Standards

Last week, as Council Members gathered for the Stated Meeting, nearly 100 clergy members led a procession and rally in support of living wage legislation.  They delivered collection baskets to the Council filled with postcards signed by their parishoners urging the Council to pass the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act.

Melissa receiving postcards in support of the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act.

This legislation, sponsored by Council Members Koppell and Palma, would require that entities receiving economic development subsidies from the City provide  jobs that pay, at minimum, a living wage, which is currently defined as $10 per hour with health benefits, or $11.50 without them.  Melissa is also the lead sponsor on the Good Jobs Bill, which will require that owners of buildings  receiving City financial assistance or where the City is leasing space, must pay its service workers a prevailing wage, as defined by the Comptroller’s office.

Mayor Bloomberg has expressed his opposition to policies that would require improved wage standards on economic development projects, saying “I’ve always wanted to let the marketplace set the wages… Government should not be in the business of doing that… The last government that tried that doesn’t exist anymore. That was the Soviet Union.”

His administration has instead commissioned a study that will look at the potential impact of living wage policy in New York City.  However, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has selected a consulting firm to run the study that has already taken a clear public position against living wages and even the minimum wage.  Therefore, the City is spending $1.1 million on a study that already has a pre-determined outcome (see video below).

For more information on the Good Jobs Bill, visit www.NotOnOurDime.org.  For more information on Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, visit www.LivingWageNYC.org.

Melissa Stands with Electeds in Opposition to the Appointment of Cathie Black as Schools Chancellor

Melissa joined Council Members and State electeds in opposing Mayor Bloomberg’s appointment of Cathie Black to replace Joel Klein as the new Chancellor of NYC public schools.  Ms. Black, who currently serves as the head of Hearst Magazines and had worked entirely in the private sector, has no experience as an educator or working in public service.  Be sure to participate in our poll below!

 

Photo from the press conference held outside of the Tweed Courthouse (DOE Headquarters).

 

Because she lacks the qualifications set out under State law, the State Education Commissioner, David Steiner, must grant a waiver to Ms. Black before she can serve as Chancellor.  Melissa has signed on to several letters and a City Council resolution calling for the waiver not to be granted.

Ms. Black’s selection has also been criticized due to the lack of public process behind Mayor Bloomberg’s decision.  Council Members have called for public hearings where she can put forth her plans for the education system and make her case for why she should be the next Chancellor.

Meanwhile, Mayor Bloomberg is defending his pick, saying that her business experience will make her an effective manager of the city’s school system.

 

Click image to see a report from Fox 5 on the press conference.

What do you think about the Mayor’s selection of Cathie Black?


City Council Adopts Resolution in Support of the Wage Theft Prevention Act

Yesterday, the City Council passed a resolution sponsored by Melissa that calls on the State Legislature and the Governor to make the Wage Theft Prevention Act state law.  The Act will put stiffer penalties in place for employers that refuse to pay their workers the minimum wage and overtime.

Make the Road New York held a press conference yesterday in support of the resolution.  Below is a video from the press conference:

A recent study by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) has indicated that two-thirds of low-wage workers are not currently paid overtime when they exceed 40 hours, and a quarter are not even paid minimum wage.  All together, NYC low-wage workers lose $1 billion per year as a result of wage theft.

The Wage Theft Prevention Act has passed both the State Senate and the Assembly, but in different versions.  Yesterday’s resolution calls on both houses to resolve these versions, pass a unified bill and send it to Governor Paterson for his signature.

City Council Questions Department of Corrections’ Collaboration with ICE at Yesterday’s Hearing

The City Council held a hearing yesterday on the collaboration between the NYC Department of Corrections (DOC) and ICE, which allows federal immigration officers to operate on Rikers Island. Melissa joined Speaker Quinn and a number of her colleagues in questioning the DOC Commissioner, Dr. Dora Schriro, regarding ICE’s activities in City jails, the history of this relationship, its cost to City taxpayers and whether or not we are required by law to engage in this level of collaboration.

Photo by William Alatriste.

All City Council photos from the hearing are available here.

Currently, ICE has real time access to DOC’s arrest records, sorted by country of origin and citizenship status. They use these records to initiate investigations and to place immigration “detainers” on those individuals at Rikers or other facilities that they determine to be eligible for deportation. Many of those who are issued detainers are not accused of serious crimes, have not been proven guilty and have no previous criminal records.  Once detainers are dropped, those individuals, after being released by the City, are typically placed directly in detention and put through deportation proceedings.

In addition to the DOC Commissioner, the Council also heard testimony from advocates such as Make the Road New York, as well as attorneys, researchers and several New Yorkers who have been affected by this policy.

 

Immigrant New Yorkers give testimony of their experiences with ICE at Rikers (Photo by Michael Appleton for The New York Times)

One of those New Yorkers was Luis Guerra, a young man from El Barrio/East Harlem, who courageously testified at yesterday’s hearing. Luis had been wrongfully arrested for murder and was interviewed by ICE which placed a detainer on him, even though he had no criminal record. Once the charges were dropped, he was sent to a detention center far away from his family, and deportation proceedings were initiated. He is currently a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College and would be a beneficiary of the DREAM Act, once it passes in Congress. His case is currently on hold, but he may ultimately still face deportation (Melissa has submitted a letter on his behalf to ICE).

Melissa is seeking to introduce legislation that will require DOC to exercise greater discretion over the information sharing with ICE and the honoring of detainers. Continue reading

Council Adopts Two of Melissa’s Bills Requiring Publication of Domestic Violence and Hate Crimes Statistics on the City’s Website

In an effort to continue to bring attention to the important issues of domestic violence and hate crimes, the City Council passed two pieces of legislation sponsored by Melissa, which will require the publication of statistics on these two crimes on the City’s My Neighborhood Statistics website.

Under these local laws, NYC residents will be able to track the number of domestic violence incidents and hate crimes in their communities, local police precincts and throughout the city in a more user-friendly way.

These pieces of legislation help get the City closer to an earlier proposal by Melissa that domestic violence statistics appear in the Police Department’s CompStat report.  While this is a step in the right direction, the advocacy will continue to elevate the seriousness with which both domestic violence and hate crimes are treated in New York City.

“Domestic violence incidents and hate crimes remain at high levels in our city,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, sponsor of the bills. “A significant percentage of all murders in the city are committed at the hands of an intimate partner, and we have all seen the startling rise in hate crimes across the city. I am proud to be the sponsor of two pieces of legislation that will require the publication of data on both domestic violence and hate crimes on the city’s website. These statistics will enable local residents and advocates to more easily and effectively monitor trends in these two crimes. I thank Speaker Quinn, Governmental Operations Chair Brewer and the Mayor’s Office of Operations for their support of this legislation.”

The Mayor is expected to sign these two bills into law in the coming weeks.

Melissa and other members of the City Council also honored several domestic violence service providers and the organizers of the Brides’ March with proclamations in the pre-Stated Meeting ceremonials.  Check the blog tomorrow for a report and photos  from the ceremony!

Raising Awareness about Domestic Violence in Schools, on the Street and on the Web

As you may know, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Melissa’s office is committed to taking this opportunity to raise awareness on this important issue.  Here are some of the things we are doing in the community and citywide during the month of October:

  • In Schools: This month, we are working with two El Barrio/East Harlem schools, the Renaissance School of the Arts and the Young Women’s Leadership Academy, in sponsoring an art contest, where students can submit artwork (in any medium) that seeks to raise awareness about the devastating effects of domestic violence.  Winners will be selected from each of the two schools and prizes will be awarded.   
  • On the Street: Today, we sponsored an event with Violence Intervention Program (VIP) and Marshalls that brought an outdoor exhibit on domestic violence to the corner of 106th Street and Third Avenue (see photos below). 
  • On the Web: On Monday morning, the City Council will hold a hearing on a bill sponsored by Melissa that will require the City to report data on domestic violence incidents on the My Neighborhood Statistics website.  After the bill is enacted, local residents will be able to track the number of these incidents in their community district, police precinct and citywide.

The Women’s Caucus of the City Council is also holding a special ceremonial event before next week’s Stated Meeting to honor domestic violence service providers throughout the five boroughs.

Photos from this morning’s event:

Melissa Gets an A+ on 2010 Human Rights Report Card

Melissa has received the highest grade in a new report card published by the  Urban Justice Center that looks at City Council Members’ voting and sponsorship records on key pieces of legislation that advance human rights in our city in the areas of housing, health, workers’ rights, criminal justice and government accountability.  She will be presented with the 2010 New York City Human Rights Award, along with fellow honoree Council Member Jumaane Williams, who also received an A+ on the report card.

The report card looks at 43 pieces of legislation and votes on land use, as well as a questionnaire, to tabulate each member’s score.  Melissa is the lead sponsor on three of the bills used to measure Council Members’ commitment to human rights.

Click here to open the 2010 Human Rights Report Card.

Statement of the Progressive Caucus on the Paid Sick Time Act

The members of the New York City Council Progressive Caucus are disappointed with Speaker Quinn’s decision not to move forward with the Paid Sick Time Act at this time.

This issue is a priority for New Yorkers and a priority for the Progressive Caucus.  There are too many New Yorkers who will continue to be forced to choose between risking their job, or risking their health and the health of their children. We continue to believe that paid sick leave is good for working families, the economy and public health.

This is not only a workers’ rights issue, it is also a critical public health issue, as employees will continue to go to work sick and send their children to school sick.

We care greatly about supporting economic recovery, and about small businesses which are the foundation of our economy. However, studies of the implementation of Paid Sick Time in San Francisco showed no impacts on job growth.  Well-regarded, academic estimates show that the costs of the bill are considerably lower than the estimates with questionable methodology that were touted recently by the business community, and that there would be almost no net impact on small businesses. However, in spite of this evidence, members of the business community have irresponsibly distorted and overstated the fiscal realities associated with this legislation.

We continue to believe that now is the time to move forward with paid sick days.  As we have said consistently, we are open to a range of amendments that would address the vast majority of concerns raised by the business community.

The Progressive Caucus will continue to push for the passage of the Paid Sick Time Act and are hopeful that the many other sponsors of the bill will join us in doing so.  We hope to see the Council move forward with this issue in the very near future.

Parks Committee to Hold Hearing Tomorrow on Tree Safety

Tomorrow, October 6th at 10:00 a.m., Melissa will chair a hearing of the Parks & Recreation Committee regarding the protection of parks users and pedestrians from damaged trees. Over the past few years, there have been a number of tragic incidents related to trees, one of the most recent being the death of Gianna Ricciutti, a six month old who was killed by a falling tree branch in Central Park this past summer.  The hearing will be held at 250 Broadway on the 14th Floor.

The snapped tree branch that killed Gianna Ricciutti in June. Photo courtesy of A Walk in the Park (http://awalkintheparknyc.blogspot.com).

The hearing will focus on the Parks Department’s process for tree inspections and maintenance, if the current resources dedicated to Central Park tree maintenance is sufficient, what oversight the Department has over non-profit entities that manage public parks within the City and what steps are being taken currently for the upcoming winter season.

Melissa to Introduce Legislation that will Require Reporting of Shelter Inspection Results

Melissa will introduce a new piece of legislation tomorrow that will require the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to report the outcomes of inspections performed on new transitional housing shelters to the local Council Member and Community Board.

Earlier this year, DHS opened a transitional housing shelter on West 107th Street in District 8, and many constituents raised questions about the quality of the housing and what level of inspection had been performed.  If enacted, this bill would enable members of the public to learn about inspection results before DHS enters into an agreement to open a housing shelter.

The W. 107th Street building where a transitional shelter was opened earlier this year (Photo by Andrew Schwartz / West Side Spirit)

The legislation requires DHS to provide the following information:

  • The name of the person or entity operating the transitional housing and organizations providing services there
  • The number of people to be housed at the location
  • A description of services to be provided
  • A list of any health, sanitation, safety and fire protection-related deficiencies that have not yet been brought into compliance with legal regulations and requirements and a description of corrective actions being required by DHS to enter into an an agreement

The bill will be referred to the General Welfare committee where we hope it will move forward during this session.

City Council Adopts Melissa’s Corporate Landlord Registration Bill

At yesterday’s Stated Meeting, the City Council voted unanimously to adopt Intro 87-A, the Corporate Landlord Registration bill sponsored by Melissa. When signed into law by the Mayor, this bill will require the corporate owners of residential buildings (such as LLCs) to disclose the names and contact information of their principal partners, while also prohibiting the use of mail handling facility addresses in landlords’ registration statements to the city.

Previously, corporate landlords were not required to disclose the names of individual partners, and many of these entities registered addresses for mail handling facilities.  In some cases, the addresses provided to the City were found to be storefront properties filled with mailboxes.  Therefore, when tenants had issues with their housing, it was often difficult to locate the actual owners of the property without engaging in litigation.

“Today, the New York City Council is sending a message that landlords should not be allowed to hide behind shell companies as tenants scramble to resolve housing issues,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito.  “Thanks to this legislation, tenants will have access to the names and contact information of the principal partners of these corporate entities that are increasingly the owners of our city’s residential buildings.  Additionally, these corporations will no longer be able to provide the City with the address of a mail handling facility instead of a real brick and mortar address where the true owners of the building can be reached.  I would like to thank Speaker Quinn and Housing & Buildings Committee Chair Dilan, as well as the advocates, particularly Make the Road New York, for their work on this legislation.”

This legislation has continued the efforts of the City Council to provide our city’s tenants with additional protections as well as the necessary tools to hold landlords accountable.  The Mayor is expected to sign this legislation into law in the coming weeks.

Melissa also introduced two resolutions yesterday:

Res 415: Resolution calling upon the New York State Legislature to pass and the Governor to sign Assembly bill A.3659 and Senate bill S.1241, which are designed to improve the efficiency, accountability, and transparency of industrial development agency operations.

Res 416: Resolution calling on Congress and President Obama to abandon the proposal for a national biometric social security card as part of a comprehensive immigration reform package.

Melissa & Speaker Quinn Publish Op-Ed in Today’s New York Times on Community Gardens

Today’s New York Times features an op-ed written by Speaker Christine Quinn and Melissa Mark-Viverito on the protection of the city’s community gardens.  Click here to open the op-ed.

New York’s community gardens, planted on city lots, are more than just pretty patches of green in the concrete jungle. They provide open space and healthful food, increase the value of neighboring property and offer a strong sense of community. Gardens are as much a part of our city as the Empire State Building or Times Square.

Yet it wasn’t long ago that their existence was threatened. As mayor in the late 1990s, Rudolph Giuliani tried to auction them off to developers. But gardeners dug in, held rallies. One protester chained himself to a building in a garden. The state attorney general filed a lawsuit to stop the auctions. Some of the gardens were sold to nonprofit groups. And, in a settlement agreement in the lawsuit, almost all of the rest — nearly 300 of them — ended up under the jurisdiction of the Parks and Recreation Department. The city agreed not to sell many of them for eight years.

That eight-year period ends next month, and our gardens are in need of permanent protection.  Read More

Council Enacts Sweeping Recycling Reforms & Clean Heating Oil Legislation

At today’s stated meeting, the City Council enacted a package of sweeping reforms to the way our city recycles.  The Council also passed a bill that will help improve our city’s air quality by lowering the sulfur content in the heating oil used by so many of the city’s buildings and increasing the utilization of biodiesel.  Additionally, the Council passed a resolution in support of a boycott of Arizona, in response to their immigration law, parts of which went into effect today.

Photo courtesy of Gothamist.

There were 11 separate pieces of legislation passed in the recycling package, one of which, introduced by Melissa, will require at least one annual event to be held in each borough for the collection of hazardous household products.  Other bills passed today includes one that will expand the city’s recycling of plastics, place more recycling bins in public places and improve recycling at our schools.  Click here for summaries of all of the recycling bills passed today.

Intro 194-A, also passed today, will improve our city’s air quality, by requiring that all heating oil used after October 1, 2012 contain at least 2 percent biodiesel fuel.  In New York City, more pollution comes from burning heating fuels than from vehicles or power plants.  In a neighborhood like East Harlem, with one of the highest asthma rates in the city, measures like this that reduce particulate matter in our air are critical.

On the day that the Arizona immigration law has gone into effect (though some of its most controversial parts have been put on hold by a judge), the Council also adopted a resolution that calls on all branches of government to engage in a boycott of Arizona.  Employees of the Council will no longer be able to travel to Arizona using public dollars.  Additionally, the Council will be filing an amicus brief in support of the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against the State of Arizona.

Melissa Stands with Governor Paterson at this Morning’s Bill Signing to Keep Innocent New Yorkers’ Names Out of the Stop & Frisk Database

Governor Paterson signed a bill this morning that will implement a critical reform to the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy.  The new law prohibits police officers from entering the names and contact information of New Yorkers who are stopped and frisked into its database if they are not found to be in violation of any law.  Melissa was invited to speak at the press conference, due to her work on this issue.  Streaming video from the event is available here.  You can listen to Melissa’s speech at the event below:

El Barrio/East Harlem is one of the most targeted neighborhoods under the stop and frisk policy in the city.  At the press conference, Melissa shared an experience she had right outside of our district office with a young man that was stopped, frisked and let go by police.

Melissa speaks at this morning's press conference.

This new State law will help protect the civil liberties of those who are not found to be in violation of the law at the time of a stop, while advocates and concerned elected officals also look at other potential reforms to reduce the adverse effects of this police practice on individuals and communities.  An overwhelming majority of those stopped — at least 80% — are black and Latino and 90% are found to be innocent.  Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had opposed the law and asked the Governor to veto it.

Click above for coverage from NY1 Noticias.

Others in attendance at the press conference included the bill’s sponsors, Senator Eric Adams and Assemblyman Hakeen Jeffries, as well as Senator Eric Schneiderman, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comproller John Liu, Council Members Danny Dromm, Debi Rose and Ydanis Rodriguez, Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union and several others.

Governor Paterson signs the bill.

Melissa Joins Electeds in Keeping Pressure on Gov. Paterson to Sign Stop & Frisk Database Reform Bill

Melissa participated in a press conference yesterday, organized by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s office, to keep the pressure on Governor Paterson to sign a bill passed by the Legislature that would prohibit police from keeping data on those who are stopped and frisked but are not convicted of any crime.  Currently, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly is urging the Governor to veto this bill.  Governor Paterson must come to a decision by this Friday.

The city’s stop and frisk policy has come under serious criticism in recent years, as these searches have been found to disproportionately target blacks and Latinos.  About 90% of those stopped are not found to be in violation of any law, yet their names and contact information are still logged in the NYPD’s database, a practice which would end under the new state law, if it is signed by the Governor.

Below is a video of Melissa’s remarks at the press conference:

Council Members Danny Dromm and Jumaane Williams, Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat and four Democratic candidates for Attorney General were also in attendance at yesterday’s press conference.

Last week, Melissa signed a letter from the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus calling on the Governor to sign this legislation.  We will update the blog when the Governor announces a decision.

Black, Latino & Asian Caucus Urges Gov. Paterson to Sign Stop & Frisk Database Bill

The Black, Latino & Asian Caucus has sent a letter to Governor Paterson, urging him to sign legislation approved by the Senate and Assembly which would prohibit police from entering the information of New Yorkers that have been stopped and frisked into a database if they are not arrested or ticketed.

Currently, after completing a stop and frisk, police have the authority to enter each individual’s name and information into its database, even when they are not found to be in violation of any law.  This practice raises serious civil liberties concerns.

The city’s stop and frisk policy has been found to be highly discriminatory against people of color, with blacks and Latinos making up 80% of those targeted. Studies have also indicated that nearly 90% of those stopped are not found to be in violation of any law.

The letter can be read below.  If you cannot view the letter, please click here.

City Council Holds Hearing on Multiple Dwelling Registration Bill

This afternoon, the City Council’s Housing and Buildings Committee held a hearing on Melissa’s Multiple Dwelling Registration bill (Intro 87-A).  The City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), community based groups such as Make the Road New York, and several housing advocates testified in support of Intro 87-A, which is expected to be passed by the Council next week.

Photo from Press Conference on Intro 87-A Held Earlier This Year (Photo by William Alatriste)

Intro 87-A would require corporate owners of buildings to report the names and addresses of principal partners of their companies to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.  Currently, many of these owners are able to hide behind corporations and partnerships, making it difficult for tenants to get problems with their housing resolved without engaging in litigation.

The legislation also requires that corporate owners provide a brick and mortar contact address for each of their principal partners.  Under current law, many landlords solely list addresses of private mail operating services on their registration statements.  One of these addresses in particular is merely a storefront filled with P.O. Boxes.

Op-Ed on Good Jobs Bill Published in ‘El Diario,’ ‘West Side Spirit’ and ‘Our Town’

Melissa has published an Op-Ed on the Good Jobs (Prevailing Wage) Bill, which she introduced earlier this year.  The Op-Ed has been printed in El Diario, the West Side Spirit and Our Town.

Click the links below to read the Op-Ed:

The Good Jobs Bill, Intro 18, would require prevailing wages be paid to building service workers in projects subsidized by the City or where the City rents space.  This legislation currently has 34 sponsors in the City Council.

Parks Update: Budget Hearing & Bill Signing

Yesterday, Melissa chaired the Parks Committee’s Executive Budget Hearing. The Department is proposing deep cuts of nearly $41 million, including a headcount reduction and hiring freeze on employees, including those responsible for the maintenance of our city’s parks.

Melissa Questioning Parks Commissioner Benepe at Budget Hearing (Photo by William Alatriste)

Melissa and others at the hearing questioned how the conditions of our parks will be impacted by the loss of so many maintenance staff members. The Department argues that their volunteers as well as anti-litter initiatives will be enough to help our parks remain clean and well-maintained in spite of these cuts.

The Parks Department also announced the locations of the four pools slated to be closed, one of which, Wagner Swimming Pool, is in East Harlem.

Mayor Bloomberg Handing Out Pens He Used to Sign Local Law 19 (Photo by William Alatriste)

Yesterday afternoon, Mayor Bloomberg signed Intro 123-A, Melissa’s Parks Surface Material Advisory Committee legislation. It is now known as Local Law 19 of 2010, and will be implemented the next time the Department uses a new surface material on playgrounds or athletic fields in New York City.

Wage Theft Prevention Act Resolution & Living Wage Legislation Introduced at Stated Meeting

At Tuesday’s stated meeting, Melissa introduced a resolution in support of the Wage Theft Prevention Act, a bill in the State Legislature.

Recent studies have estimated that each week, more than 300,000 workers in New York City are victims of wage theft, which typically involves employers denying workers minimum wage and overtime pay, taking back tips and misclassifying employees as independent contractors.  If passed by the Senate and Assembly, the Wage Theft Prevention Act would expand enforcement and increase penalties for underpayment and nonpayment of wages.

Melissa speaking at Living Wage press conference. Photo by William Alatriste.

Melissa also co-sponsored legislation introduced by Council Members Koppell and Palma which will require a living wage (currently defined as $10 an hour with health benefits, or $11.50 without benefits) to be paid at all economic development projects that receive City subsidies.  The Living Wage NYC Campaign has created a website to support this bill.

Below is a video taken following from Monday’s DMI Marketplace of Ideas Event where Melissa talks about both her prevailing wage legislation for building service workers (Intro 18) and the living wage bill introduced Tuesday (Intro 251).

Council Passes Melissa’s Playground and Athletic Field Safety Legislation

Today, the City Council passed legislation introduced by Melissa that would create an advisory committee to examine any new surface materials put into our parks.

Artificial turf is known to retain high levels of heat which can cause severe burns, and in some cases, has been found to contain toxic substances.  At Thomas Jefferson Field in East Harlem, tests revealed a high presence of lead on the fields, posing a serious danger to local residents who are seeking out opportunities for recreation.

Going forward, whenever the Parks Department introduces new surface materials in our athletic fields and playgrounds, an advisory committee will evaluate those materials for health, safety and environmental risks, and provide the Department with a recommendation.

The bill is expected to be signed into law in the coming weeks.

“Ever since Thomas Jefferson Field in my district was found to contain high levels of lead, I have been very concerned about the potential dangers posed by the use of synthetic turf on our athletic fields,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito.  “At the same time, I do recognize that many New Yorkers value synthetic turf, since it creates more opportunities for recreation in our parks.  This legislation will help ensure that the Parks Department is looking at issues of health, safety and environmental impacts when considering the introduction of a new surface material on our fields and playgrounds.”

Council Holds Hearing on Prevailing Wage Bill

The City Council held a hearing this morning on Melissa’s prevailing wage bill.  Intro 18, introduced by Melissa in February, would require a prevailing wage for building service workers in buildings that have received significant subsidies from the City or where the City rents space.

This morning, she was joined by a number of colleagues, workers and advocates, in calling for the passage of this legislation, which currently has 34 sponsors.

“When we subsidize development projects, and in terms of this legislation we are also talking about the rental of space by entities that receive above a specified amount from the city on a yearly basis, the City government acts as a powerful economic engine throughout the five boroughs,” said Council Member Melissa Mark Viverito at today’s hearing.  “This legislation challenges the City to harness that power to ensure that quality jobs, not just any jobs, are created.”

32BJ, the union that represents building service workers in New York City, has launched a website with information on this legislation: www.NotOnOurDime.org.

Check back here for updates on the prevailing wage bill.

City Council Denounces Arizona’s Immigration Law & Adopts Resolution in Favor of Federal Reform

Nearly two dozen City Council Members joined a press conference yesterday afternoon to denounce Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law and to call for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.  The conference was organized by Speaker Quinn, and Council Members Viverito, Dromm and Rodriguez, together with the New York Immigration Coalition.

Photo Courtesy of William Alatriste.

Later, at the Stated Meeting, the Council adopted a resolution introduced by Melissa earlier this month in support of comprehensive immigration reform.

During the press conference, Melissa echoed her calls for a boycott of Arizona in response to this anti-immigrant law, as well as for the Department of Justice to do an expedited study of the law to determine its legality.

Tomorrow, thousands of immigrants will rally in Lower Manhattan for immigration reform.  We hope you will join us at 11:00 a.m. at Foley Square (click here for a map).

NYC Council’s Parks Committee to Hold Hearing on Concessions in NYC’s Public Parks

Please see the hearing notice below for information on an upcoming hearing held by the NYC Council’s Parks & Recreation Committee, which Melissa chairs.  The hearing will explore the policies and practices around concessions awarded by the Parks Department.

As you all know, issues around concessions have had a significant effect on parks in District 8, most notably on Randall’s Island.  The proposal to put up tennis bubbles in Central Park has also generated further interest in this topic.

We encourage all of you to attend this hearing and make your voice heard on concessions in our public parks.  Please see below for more info.

Hearing Notice:

New York City Council’s Parks & Recreation Committee to Hold Oversight Hearing on Concessions in NYC’s Public Parks

Please take note that on April 27, 2010 at 10 a.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall, the Parks and Recreation Committee of the City Council will hold an oversight hearing on concessions.  The hearing is expected to address the entire range of the topic, from the planning of concessions to the process of the awarding of concessions (including input by Community Boards) to the enforcement of concessions.  In addition, the committee will hear Int. 0021-2010, By Council Members Nelson, Foster, James, Mark-Viverito and Mendez: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to identifying the location of concessions within a park.

While concessions in parks are an important revenue generator for the City and bring life to our parks, they also take up valuable public open space.  The hearing will look to ensure that the balance is struck in a way that benefits the city and its local communities.

We invite you to come and either testify at the hearing, or simply observe.  If you are planning on providing testimony, please confirm your attendance by emailing hearings@council.nyc.gov or calling 212-788-7210.  Also, please bring twenty copies of your testimony to the hearing.

Melissa Introduces Three Resolutions Calling for Reforms to our Immigration System

Yesterday, Melissa introduced a package of resolutions that call for reforms to our immigration system: just and humane immigration reform, an end to the 287(g) enforcement program and protections for immigrant detainees.

She also introduced a component of the City Council’s plan to expand recycling in NYC, which will require the Department of Sanitation to hold one annual event in each borough for the collection of household hazardous waste products, with the goal of increasing the number of events or making collection sites permanent.

Additionally, Melissa joined Council Member Rosie Mendez in introducing a resolution urging Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño to meet with labor unions on the island and to explore alternatives to the privatization of government services.

Here is a list of yesterday’s introductions, including links to read the full text of the legislation:

  • Int 162 (with Speaker Quinn)To require one annual household hazardous waste collection event in each borough.
  • Res 162: Calling upon the United States Congress to pass and President Obama to sign a just and humane comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2010.
  • Res 163Urging the United States Congress to pass and the President to sign the Protect Citizens and Residents from Unlawful Detention Act and the Strong Safe Treatment, Avoiding Needless Deaths, and Abuse Reduction in the Detention System (STANDARDS) Act, two bills that will reform the U.S. immigration detention system.
  • Res 164Resolution urging President Obama to put an end to the 287(g) program, an immigration enforcement program that is causing an increase in racial profiling and civil rights abuses in localities throughout the United States.
  • Res 165 (by Council Members Mendez and Mark-Viverito): Urging Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño to meet with the labor unions representing Central government workers in Puerto Rico to discuss alternative solutions to the economic crisis and reduce the privatization of important government functions, for the benefit of all Puerto Ricans including the thousands who live in, or have relatives who live in, New York City.

Both Int 162 and Res 162 will be heard by their respective committees beginning this month.

City Council Unveils Plans for an Expanded and Improved Recycling Program

Yesterday, Melissa joined City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, several other Council Members and environmental advocates in announcing a package of legislation that will dramatically expand and improve our City’s recycling program.

Click above to open video from NY1 Noticias.

As part of this package, Melissa will introduce a piece of legislation that will help encourage NYC residents to safely dispose of household hazardous waste, by requiring the City to hold at least one annual event to collect these materials in each borough, with the goal of increasing the number of events or making collection sites permanent.

“I’m proud to be introducing legislation that will give people more opportunities to safely dispose of household hazardous waste,” said Council Member Melissa Mark Viverito.  “Every New Yorker has items like pesticides, cleaners, or leftover paint sitting in a closet or under a sink, and they often don’t know what to do with them.  We need to make sure these materials are properly collected, before they end up polluting our soil or water.”

Other components of the comprehensive plan include expanding the recycling of plastics, improved recycling by schools and City agencies, and the creation of special programs for the recycling of paint, clothing and textiles.  For a complete list of the proposed reforms, click here.

Introductions at Yesterday’s Stated Meeting

Yesterday, Melissa introduced several pieces of legislation at the City Council’s Stated Meeting:

Int 122: Establishing a pilot commercial waste audit program, which will help different businesses in our City to establish industry standards and best practices for waste management, recycling and the use of environmentally-friendly materials.

Int 123: Requiring a review process, including consideration for safety, health and environmental concerns, for any new surface materials to be used on playgrounds and fields in our City.

Res 119Resolution calling upon the New York State Legislature to create a tax incentive program for green businesses.

Res 120: Resolution calling upon the State to pass legislation that would provide tax incentives for food-service businesses that use environmentally-friendly alternatives to disposable food ware made from styrofoam and other non-recyclable or non-biodegradable materials.

You can access a running list of bills and resolutions introduced this term by clicking the Legislation tab at the top of the page.

Melissa speaking at Paid Sick Days conference.

Paid sick days legislation was also re-introduced yesterday by Council Member Gale Brewer.  Prior to the Stated Meeting, Council Members and advocates gathered outside City Hall to call for the legislation’s passage this term.

This bill, now re-introduced as Int 97, would require that employers provide their workers with earned paid sick time.  Currently, over a million employees lack this protection and often have to make the choice between going to work sick and losing a day’s pay.

The paid sick days bill has been identified as one of the priorities of the new Progressive Caucus of the City Council, which is co-chaired by Melissa.

10 Council Members Send Letter to Mayor about City’s Collaboration with ICE at Rikers Island

Melissa and nine of her City Council colleagues sent a letter to Mayor Bloomberg last week calling for an end to the collaboration between NYC’s Department of Corrections (DOC) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at Rikers Island.

In this letter, which can be found below, the Council Members detail a number of serious concerns with the practices of ICE agents at Rikers and the devastating impacts this collaboration has had on thousands of New York City’s families, not to mention its cost to taxpayers.

This letter was also signed by Immigration Committee Chair Danny Dromm, as well as Council Members Fernando Cabrera, Helen Diane Foster, Robert Jackson, Brad Lander, Rosie Mendez, Annabel Palma, Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams.

Parks Committee Hearing Held Today: Regulating Tree Removals and Replacements

Melissa convened her first Parks and Recreation Committee hearing as Chair this afternoon.  The topic of the hearing was Intro 4, a piece of legislation that will regulate tree removals and replacements on City property.

The legislation will set up a permitting process for City agencies to remove trees from public property, require these agencies to either replace the trees or to pay a fee to the Parks Department to do so, and ensure that the replacement trees planted collectively add up to a caliper size that is comparable to any of the mature trees that are removed.

At the hearing, the Parks Department as well as representatives from the business and advocacy communities provided testimony on this bill.

Intro 4 is expected to be voted on by the committee and get to the floor of the Council soon.

For a calendar of all City Council hearings, please click here.

Press Conference on Multiple Dwelling Registration Bill Held Today

About 100 members of Make the Road New York and the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD) joined Melissa and Council Member Chin on the steps of City Hall today to call for the passage of the soon to be re-introduced multiple dwelling registration bill.

(c) William Alatriste, NYC Council

This legislation, which was first introduced by Melissa last term, will help tenants of those buildings owned by LLCs to more easily reach their landlords when problems with their housing arise.  Under this legislation, corporate owners would have to provide the City with the names and contact information of their principal partners, information which, for some tenants, is currently only learned through legal action.

At the press conference, tenants and advocates spoke about the difficulties they faced in trying to get housing issues resolved when the only information they had for some landlords was a P.O. Box number.

Here are more photos from the event.  Click each one to enlarge.

(c) William Alatriste, NYC Council

(c) William Alatriste, NYC Council

(c) William Alatriste, NYC Council

(c) William Alatriste, NYC Council

Tomorrow: Council Members, Advocates and Tenant Leaders Stand in Support of Multiple Dwelling Registration Bill

Tomorrow, February 17th, Council Members, housing advocates and tenant leaders will hold a press conference in support of Melissa’s multiple dwelling registration bill, which is soon to be reintroduced.  The event will take place at 1:00 pm on the steps of City Hall.

The multiple dwelling registration bill will require LLC owners of apartment buildings to disclose the names and contact information of the corporation’s partners.  Under the current law, tenants of such buildings often do not have access to their individual landlords’ contact information, making it more cumbersome to resolve any housing problems that may arise without legal action.

See the media advisory below for more information on tomorrow’s event.

Introductions at Yesterday’s Stated Meeting

Melissa introduced several pieces of legislation at yesterday’s Stated Meeting, some of which were re-introductions from the last term.

Melissa hopes to move these forward during this term. There are also many more bills and resolutions to be introduced in the coming weeks and months. Here is the list of legislation introduced by Melissa yesterday:

Int 16: Requiring quarterly reports from the environmental control board on illegal vending.

Int 17: Launching a zero carbon emission building pilot program.

Int 18: Establishing a prevailing wage requirement for building service employees in buildings owned, or managed, in whole or in part by persons receiving financial assistance or rent derived in whole or in part from the city treasury.

Int 19: Freezing fees of those applying for J-51 benefits at the time of application.

Res 9: Resolution calling upon the New York State Legislature to pass, and the Governor to approve, legislation creating a Mitchell-Lama-type program for the 21st Century for buildings to be built on vacant lots owned by the City of New York and for vacant City-owned buildings.

Res 10: Resolution calling upon the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Bud Selig, to retire number 21 in recognition of Roberto Clemente, a great baseball player and humanitarian.

Res 11: Resolution calling upon the New York State Legislature to amend section 399-dd of the General Business Law to allow municipalities to enact local laws regarding playground equipment, and to specifically allow the City of New York to legislate standards for such equipment for playgrounds owned and maintained by the New York City Housing Authority and further, for any city agency, included but not limited to the Department of Parks and Recreation, as well as the New York City Housing Authority, to perform a temperature test for all equipment installed in parks and playgrounds, including safety equipment and materials, and to prohibit such materials from being installed that pose a health or burn danger to exposed skin.

Rally to Announce Re-Introduction of Prevailing Wage Legislation

Melissa, SEIU 32BJ, Make the Road New York, National Employment Law Project (NELP) and several of her Council colleagues held a rally this morning, announcing the re-introduction of prevailing wage legislation from last term.

Melissa speaking to 32BJ members and supporters.

Intro 18, which was introduced this afternoon’s stated meeting, will require a prevailing wage for building service employees that are working in buildings that receive subsidies or rent payments from the City.

Melissa has been a strong advocate for tying our city’s tax dollars to good, quality jobs that will help New York City families to move into the middle class.

Stay tuned to the blog for updates on this and other legislation.

Melissa Joins Press Conference on Federal Community Jobs Legislation

This afternoon, Melissa joined a press conference organized by East Harlem-based Community Voices Heard and other partners to call for the passage of legislation in Congress that would establish a community jobs program.

Melissa speaks to crowd at press conference.

Unemployment has skyrocketed in our city, particularly among black and Latino New Yorkers. This legislation would provide federal funding to create jobs in our city, which would be targeted to those communities that need them the most. Furthermore, the jobs created by this legislation would be focused in sectors that help build, maintain and green our city’s infrastructure, as well as provide vital social services to low-income communities.

In addition to the press conference, Melissa has also helped circulate a sign-on letter to urge our New York Senators and Congressional Representatives to support this legislation at the federal level. So far, 12 other Council Members have joined her in signing on to this letter.

Park Conservancies and Benchmarking Bills Signed into Law

Mayor Bloomberg signs Melissa's legislation into law.

Yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg signed several bills into law, two of which were introduced and sponsored by Melissa.

The Park Conservancies Bill (Intro 1083-A) along with Greener, Greater Buildings Package, including the Benchmarking Bill (Intro 476-A) were among the 12 pieces of legislation signed by the Mayor.

Melissa & Mayor Bloomberg Speak About Park Conservancies Bill

The Last Stated Meeting of the Term

Melissa at pre-stated press conference, discussing park conservancies bill, which was passed unanimously. Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates.

Today’s stated meeting (where legislation and land use items go for a full vote by Council Members) was the last of this term.  This afternoon, the Council voted unanimously in favor of two pieces of legislation of which Melissa was a lead sponsor:

  • Intro 1083-A (CM Viverito) will require that park conservancies, the private boards that run and raise money for many of our city’s parks include representation from members of the local community. This local law will ensure greater transparency and public participation in the decision making of these conservancies.
  • Res 2256-A (CMs Brewer, Sanders, Viverito and the Speaker) is a resolution urging New York State to pass legislation that will extend priority admission to affordable Mitchell-Lama housing for veterans of our more recent wars. If the State Legislature and Governor passed such a law, veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Gulf War would be included among the veterans who qualify for priority admission. The spouses of deceased veterans of these wars, as well as the Vietnam War, would also be included.

The Council also voted to override several mayoral vetoes, including the Kingsbridge Armory plan, as well as the clergy parking bill and a bill providing drivers with a five minute grace period before being issued a parking ticket.

Here is a statement from Melissa on the passage of the Park Conservancies bill:

“This is a much-needed piece of legislation that will assure greater transparency, accountability and community participation from our City’s park conservancies,” said Council Member Melissa Mark Viverito, lead sponsor of the bill. “Additionally, this Local Law will provide consistency in the composition of conservancy boards across the City. As conservancies make decisions about our city’s public parks, we must ensure that the perspectives of local residents are heard and part of the decision making processes.”

Today at City Hall: A Vote on Melissa’s Park Conservancies Bill

At today’s stated meeting (to be held shortly), the City Council will vote on a piece of legislation introduced by Melissa this year that will require local representation on our city’s park conservancies.

Additionally, Melissa was a lead sponsor of a resolution calling on New York State to update the law around priority admission for veterans to Mithcell-Lama housing.  The law, if introduced and passed at the State level, would provide priority admission to veterans of the Iraq, Afghanistan and Gulf Wars and to their widows and widowers, as well as to widowers of Vietnam War-era veterans, all of whom are currently excluded from the admission priority.

Stay tuned for updates on the votes on this and other legislation to be voted on at the Stated Meeting.

NY Observer Article Mentions Melissa’s Prevailing Wage Bill

An article published by the New York Observer on Tuesday made a brief mention of Melissa’s recently-introduced legislation that would guarantee a prevailing wage for building service workers in buildings that receive financial assistance or rent from the City.  The article places this legislation in the context of the Council’s rejection of the Kingsbridge Armory proposal on Monday largely over the issue of living wages.

On top of the push for retail workers’ wages, the powerful building service workers union, SEIU 32BJ, is pushing a bill that would grant similarly high “prevailing” wages to building employees in subsidized projects citywide.

Intro 1098, the legislation mentioned above, is one of many bills Melissa hopes to reintroduce in her second term, which begins in January.

Council Votes for a Greener NYC Skyline

This afternoon, the City Council passed a monumental package of legislation aimed at reducing carbon emissions from New York City’s buildings.

Melissa has been proud to sponsor Intro 476-A, which requires large building owners to benchmark their buildings’ energy and water usage and to make that information available to the public.  This bill, along with three others, were enacted today by the Council and are expected to be signed into law by the Mayor soon.

Here is Melissa’s quote in a larger press release about the green buildings package:

“Benchmarking is the first step owners can take toward reducing emissions from their buildings,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito.  “Large building owners must be equipped with the tools and information they need in order to reduce their energy and water usage.  This legislation will ensure that the benchmarking process happens in all large buildings and that it happens in a transparent manner, so that owners can cut their buildings’ operating costs while also cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that harm us all.  I thank the Speaker and Environmental Protection Committee Chair Gennaro for helping bring this important legislation to the floor as well as Council Members Garodnick and Recchia for their work on the other components of this package.”

Melissa Joins a Press Conference Announcing Tougher Restrictions on Toy Guns

Melissa participated in a press conference this morning announcing tougher restrictions on toy guns, to be brought before the City Council in the coming weeks.  See the press release here.

“This legislation will help prevent further violence by deterring businesses from selling toy guns that look real,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “The increased regulations created by this bill will not only prevent toy guns from being used to commit crimes, but also will avert children from being wounded or killed by confused police officers who mistake their toy for a real gun.”

Below are videos of the press conference:

Part 1

Part 2 (Melissa is introduced by the Speaker at about 6:18)

Statement on Horse-Drawn Carriage Ban

The following is a statement from Council Member Melissa Mark Viverito on the efforts to ban horse-drawn carriages in NYC.  This statement was read at a Coalition for New York City Animals press conference on Saturday.

“It is of paramount importance that we bring an end to the use of horse-drawn carriages in New York City both to protect the animals and the people with whom they share the roads. There have been several fatal collisions between carriages and cars during peak traffic times that illustrate a real cause for concern that must be addressed. I am delighted to be the co-sponsor of Intro 658-A with Council Member Tony Avella to prohibit horse drawn carriages in New York City and to ensure that each horse will be cared for humanely for the rest of its natural life. I thank the Friends of Animals coalition for their hard work in organizing this rally and I look forward to working together in the future to put an end to this harmful practice.”

Vacant Properties Rally

On Wednesday, December 2nd, Picture the Homeless held a rally outside of JP Morgan Chase Headquarters to demand that the bank convert its vacant properties into affordable housing for low-income and homeless New Yorkers.

You can read more about the rally here.  The article mentions a piece of legislation introduced by Melissa that will require a citywide count of vacant buildings as a first step to combat the “warehousing” of these properties:

There is no precise accounting of the amount of warehoused property Chase owns, but a City Council bill introduced by Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-East Harlem, Manhattan Valley, Mott Haven) would require the city to conduct a census count of vacant property every year, and to publish information online and in print concerning who owns the vacant property and when the property became vacant.