Council will also vote to reform city’s car wash industry and to improve language access for small business owners with limited-English proficiency

City Hall – Today the City Council will vote on legislation regulating the use of criminal background checks for employment purposes. The Council will also vote to require city car wash businesses to obtain licenses and comply with regulations designed to protect consumers, workers and the environment. Additionally, the Council will vote on a package of bills to improve agency interactions with, and help provide services for, small businesses, including legislation that requires the establishment of protocols for city agencies when conducting inspections with non-English-speaking business owners. Finally, the Council will vote on a land use modification creating the Crown Heights Historic District in Brooklyn.

Fair Chance Act

In order to address employment discrimination faced by individuals formerly incarcerated and increase gainful employment opportunities for those with arrest records or criminal histories, Introduction 318-A, sponsored by Council Member Jumaane Williams, would make it a violation of the City’s Human Rights Law for any employer to make any inquiry about a job applicant’s criminal background prior to the applicant receiving a conditional offer of employment.

Once a conditional offer is made, an employer would be permitted to make inquiries related to criminal history and could commence a criminal background check. If the employer decides to take adverse action against an applicant based on the applicant’s criminal record, the bill would require the employer to: (i) provide the applicant with a written explanation of the decision not to hire the applicant; and (ii) hold the position open for three days, giving the applicant a chance to respond. During this three-day period, the applicant could address any incorrect or negative reporting, or provide the employer with proof of rehabilitation.

Nothing in the bill would require an employer to hire anyone despite criminal history. Employers could make a determination that an applicant’s criminal history poses a potential risk based on the nature of an applicant’s criminal history and the type of employment position.

Introduction 318-A does not apply to employers hiring for positions where any federal, State or local law requires criminal background checks or where criminal backgrounds serve as a bar to employment. The bill also exempts law enforcement positions, such as members of the Police Department and Department of Investigation, in addition to a limited number of positions of public trust where the hiring process is affected by the State’s Civil Service Law.

“When we take away the chance to find honest employment from those who have made bad decisions in the past, we’re only setting up road blocks to their efforts to rebuild their lives,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “New York should be a city where those who have paid the price for their past mistakes are given the tools to get their lives back on track and improve themselves. This legislation brings us closer to that goal.”

“I am proud to work with a vibrant group of elected officials to pass the NYC Fair Chance Act. Once enacted, this law will ensure that all New Yorkers, including those with convictions for previous mistakes, will have an equal opportunity to compete for jobs that they qualify for. Though the legislation does not require employers to hire any particular applicant, it delays the background check, thus supplementing preexisting law that says employers cannot deny a job because of a record unless there is a direct relationship to the job. Not only does employment strengthen communities and lower recidivism, but employers will have access to a broader range of qualified candidates to consider. I am proud New York City will now join the ranks of more than 17 states and 100 cities to give all applicants a fair chance,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams.

Car Wash Reform

Introduction 125-B, sponsored by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, also known as “The Car Wash Accountability Act, ” is designed to help the City enforce environmental laws regarding the use of water and the disposal of pollutants as well as consumer protection laws for customers of car washes. The law will also help protect employees of car washes. Car wash employees are a particularly vulnerable group of low-wage workers. In fact, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently entered into a multi-million dollar settlement against car wash owners for wage theft including non-payment of overtime, minimum wage violations and stealing of tips.

The law will require car washes to register with and secure a license from the Department of Consumer Affairs (“DCA”) in order to operate. Businesses where some car washing is done on the side, as is the case with many auto repair shops or car rental companies, would not be covered. Among other things, DCA could consider the “character and fitness” of a business when issuing or renewing a license, including whether an applicant provided truthful statements in support of a license application or information request, as well as an applicant’s history of illegal activity, including labor law violations, that bears a direct relationship on the fitness of an applicant to conduct business.

As a condition of licensed operation, each applicant would need to secure a $150,000 surety bond to cover potential claims for damages owed to consumers for damages to vehicles and claims of underpayment or nonpayment of wages to employees. Operations that secure collective bargaining agreements with employees, or that are covered by an active government monitoring agreement by the State or federal governments, would be required to secure a surety bond of $30,000.

Car wash businesses would also have to certify that they are in compliance with certain Department of Buildings and Department of Environmental Protection laws and rules related to, among other things, permits for well water, the amount of water drawn from public sources, use and maintenance of oil/water separators and sand interceptors, and the reporting and retention of chemicals used in the operation of the business. Car washes would also be required to keep records of damage to cars and payments to customers.

“This has been a long fight for fairness in the industry, and today I’m very proud that the Council is stepping up and passing a bill that will make a difference in the lives of car wash workers across New York City,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “Wage theft and inhumane working conditions cannot be tolerated in New York City. With this bill, we are taking pro-active steps to ensure that car washes show respect and fairness to workers, consumers and the environment.”

Small Business Package

In her February 2015 State of the City Address, Speaker Mark-Viverito laid out a plan to improve the regulatory climate for small businesses in New York City. Today, the Council will vote on a package of bills that achieve many elements of this plan.

Introduction 723-A, sponsored by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, would require that the Mayor’s Office of Operations provide the business owner’s bill of rights in at least the top six languages spoken by limited-English proficient individuals, as those languages are determined by the Department of City Planning. Currently, those languages are Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Korean, French Creole, and Italian. The bill would also require that the standardized customer service training curriculum developed by the Mayor’s Office of Operations include specific protocols for inspectors to follow when interacting with non-English speakers to ensure that such inspectors provide appropriate language translation services during inspections.

“Small businesses have always played a huge role in the immigrant success story that is New York City,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “Restaurants and shops across the five boroughs allow New Yorkers from all over the world to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams while also enriching the cultural experience for everyone in this city. Language barrier is no excuse for the city not to fully communicate to business owners their rights and responsibilities, and this bill will ensure that we improve that communication going forward.”

Introduction 724-A, sponsored by Council Member Margaret Chin, would require the appointment of small business advocates within the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) dedicated to helping business owners obtain appropriate services from the Department and other government agencies. It would also require SBS to report on the number of requests received, the type of requests, and the assistance provided in response to each request.

“Our city has great services for small businesses, but many of our small businesses do not know how to access these programs or whom to turn to when they have questions about the city’s rules and regulations,” said Council Member Margaret Chin. “With Intro 724 to create small business advocates, small businesses will now have a voice and a shepherd within the city government who can help them access and navigate city agencies and speak up for them when there are issues. I thank Speaker Mark-Viverito and Council Member Cornegy for championing these issues.”

Introduction 726-A, sponsored by Council Member Rafael Espinal, would require the Department of Consumer Affairs (“DCA”) to hold multiple business education events across the city each year to provide local businesses with information on the laws and rules that are enforced by the agency. The bill would require SBS to support DCA in organizing the events. The bill would require two such events to be held in two separate locations in each borough every year. Information provided at the events would address licensing schemes, consumer protection laws, and truth in pricing laws. Material produced for the business education events would be made available in English and in the six languages most commonly spoken by individuals with limited English language proficiency.

The first business education event would be held on or before June 30, 2015

“Mom and Pop stores have always been a vital part of the fabric and culture of our City. Unfortunately, New York has not always had a climate that is conducive to small businesses. With the passage of these pieces of legislation, we are taking a big step forward in the effort to make our city more business friendly, helping to stimulate growth and create more job opportunities for all New Yorkers,” stated Council Member Rafael L. Espinal, Jr., the Chair of the Council’s Committee on Consumer Affairs.

Introduction 725-A, sponsored by Council Member Robert Cornegy, would require the Mayor’s Office of Operations to engage in outreach efforts to ensure that a large number of small businesses are completing the customer service survey available on the City’s website. This feedback would be forwarded to agencies, and would be required under the bill to be used as these agencies formulate and refine their Council-mandated customer service training.

“Small business owners do incredibly valuable, incredibly difficult work that benefits the people they employ, the customers they serve, and our city as a whole,” said Council Member Robert Cornegy. “My goal as Chair of the Committee on Small Business is to do all I can to make their tough jobs easier. Today’s bills accomplish that goal, by improving the ways the City interacts with small businesses in many ways. Going forward, non-English speakers will have a fairer chance during inspections, the number of education events across the boroughs will be increased, owners will be encouraged to give meaningful feedback and there will be a clear entry point for business owners to share their concerns with the Department of Small Business Services. Moreover, we’ll have a better understanding of how business summons are resolved by the Department of Consumer Affairs and OATH. As these mechanisms tell us more about what business owners need, we’ll continue to do better to serve them. I thank Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito & all of the members who worked to sponsor and co-sponsor these bills for their vision and determination.”

Introduction 456-A, sponsored by Council Member Helen Rosenthal, would require the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH), which includes the Environmental Control Board, and Health and Taxi Tribunals, to issue monthly reports on violations that are dismissed in its tribunal. It would require the agencies that issue these violations to work with the Mayor’s Office of Operations to develop a report to the Council on the steps they plan to take to minimize the issuance of violations that are ultimately dismissed. For example, they might retrain inspectors or amend unclear rules.

“Restaurateurs in my district report receiving frivolous summons that require them to take off work to go to a hearing, which then results in a dismissal. On the other hand, tenants report that valid Department of Buildings violations get dismissed because landlords can afford expensive lawyers, who find loopholes to get the landlords off the hook without making necessary repairs. This bill will bring to light the reasons violations are dismissed so appropriate steps can be taken for a fair outcome,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal.

Finally, Introduction 729-A, sponsored by Council Vincent Gentile, would require the Department of Consumer Affairs to issue annual reports on the violations that are dismissed in its tribunal and would require DCA to report to the Council on the steps the agency plans to take to minimize the issuance of violations that are ultimately dismissed, such as retraining inspectors or amending unclear rules.

“With the voting in of this bill we tell business owners that we value them and the time and hard work they put into becoming entrepreneurs and staples of the communities they are a part of,” said Council Member Vincent Gentile. We show them that we understand that hardworking business owner should ever have to take precious time needed to serve their customers, our constituents, in order to contest a fine that will in all likelihood be thrown away. Because we are the city of opportunity and will forever look to improve opportunities for New Yorkers, I look forward to voting our way forward right now.”

Crown Heights Historic District

The Crown Heights North III Historic District comprises more than 600 buildings, including single- and two-family row houses, flats buildings, and apartment houses primarily built from the 1870s to the 1930s representing the wealth of architectural styles that flourished in Brooklyn during this period, including the Neo-Grec, Queen Anne, Romanesque Revival, Renaissance Revival, Beaux Arts, Colonial Revival, Arts and Crafts, and Art Deco styles.

This historic designation will protect an important part of New York City’s architectural history and preserve the special character of this neighborhood.

“As the landscape of New York City continues to change due to residential and commercial development, it is important that we preserve the beautiful architecture that accentuates our neighborhoods and captures the breadth of our history. The proposed designation of Crown Heights North III Historic District would ensure that our buildings and homes would continue to stand as a testament to our city’s innovative designs and for the enjoyment of future generations,” said Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo.

“Today’s designation is the fulfilment of years of hard work by the proud homeowners of Crown Heights, the dedicated volunteer members of Community Board 8 and the Crown Heights North Association, and the expert staffs of the Historic Districts Council and the Landmarks Preservation Commission,” said Council Member Robert Cornegy. “It’s been a positive experience in every way, as research has enlightened us about the history and architecture of the district and neighbors have supported one another in learning about many benefits that landmarking brings. I’m grateful to bring to a close what my predecessor, Council Member Al Vann, initiated and proudly celebrate the first landmarking to take place during my term in office.”