Council will also vote on legislative package to make Elections in New York City more accessible to voters

City Hall – Today the City Council will vote on legislation to require retail stores to impose a fee of no less than five cents for plastic and other bags provided to customers. Next, the Council will vote on a package of three bills to improve elections and voting in New York City. Finally, the Council will vote on two bills to eliminate unfair penalties for building owners whose property is damaged by natural disasters.

Bag Fee

New York City pays an estimated $12.5 million to transport 91,000 tons of plastic bags and paper carry-out bags to landfills in other states each year. New Yorkers use 9.37 billion carryout bags per year, the vast majority of which are not recycled. Plastic bags get stuck in storm drains, exacerbating flooding and sewage discharges into waterways, and are the fourth most commonly found type of litter on U.S. beaches.

Introduction 209-A, sponsored by Council Members Margaret Chin and Brad Lander, would require retail and grocery stores to charge no less than 5 cents for plastic and other bags. The proposed charge would be retained by the store to cover the cost of providing bags and customers who bring their own bags would not be charged. The legislation also includes robust informational outreach components and requires giveaways of reusable, recyclable bags in local communities.

The bill includes exemptions for take-out or delivery orders from restaurants, produce, and prescription medications. In addition, stores must waive the charge for providing paper or plastic bags for transactions where the customer is using food stamps to avoid additional barriers to food security. Emergency food providers, such as food pantries, would be exempt from the charge.

“New York has never shied away from the goal of being an environmentally responsible city,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. For too long, plastic bags have clogged our storm drains, littered our greenspaces, and tangled in our trees. With this legislation, we can take a step toward a cleaner and sustainable city by incentivizing New Yorkers to not to add to the billions of carry out bags currently being used each year.”

“The amended bill that we are voting on today is the result of months of discussions with my Council colleagues about how best to balance our need to reduce the billions of single-use bags discarded every year with our desire not to unfairly burden low-income New Yorkers,” said Council Member Margaret Chin. In other cities, a small charge has been an effectively way to encourage more people to bring reusable bags and reduce single-use bag waste. I am incredibly grateful for the Speaker’s support, and for the support of a majority of my colleagues who want to create a better environment for current and future generations.”

“New York City is taking a big step forward to get rid of the 9 billion plastic bags we waste each year. Intro 209-A, the Bring Your Own Bag bill, will eliminate tens of thousands of tons of solid waste, save the City millions, reduce truck trips in communities of color, and help clean up our trees, parks, playgrounds, streets, beaches, oceans,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “In city after city, a small fee on single-use carryout bags has been overwhelmingly successful in getting people to bring their own reusable bags when they shop — across lines of race, income, and age — and generated a 60% to 90% drop in plastic bag waste. New Yorkers will start bringing reusable bags to avoid the fee, and together we will drastically cut back on the number of bags we use. Thank you to Council Member Margaret Chin and Council Member Antonio Reynoso for leading the way, and to Speaker Mark-Viverito and our Council colleagues for supporting this sensible policy to cut back on our plastic bag problem.”

Elections and Voting

The City’s Board of Elections (BOE) is responsible for administering all federal, state and local elections held in New York City. In recent elections, including the Presidential Primary elections held on April 19th, 2016, many New Yorkers experienced confusion and difficulty when attempting to vote. The Council will vote on three bills, initially proposed by Speaker Mark-Viverito in her 2016 State of the City Address, make important voting information more easily available to the public.

Introduction 62-A, sponsored by Council Member Dan Garodnick, would require the BOE to post a notice on any building that was previously used as a poll site but is no longer being used for that purpose. This will allow voters who unknowingly go to vote at a former poll site to find out where they can go to cast their votes.

“It is unacceptable that every Election Day, some people go to their ordinary polling place to find that it has disappeared,” said Council Member Dan Garodnick. “It’s time to eliminate these unnecessary obstacles to the right to vote.”

Introduction 463-A, sponsored by Council Member James Vacca, would require the BOE to send e-mail and text message notifications regarding elections to registered voters who have opted to provide their email address or mobile number to the BOE for this purpose. Information sent would include:

  • the dates and hours of elections;
  • poll site locations;
  • absentee voting requirements and deadlines;
  • links to sample ballots
  • links to relevant information on the board’s website.

“Increased access to voting information removes barriers and makes it easier for citizens to exercise their right to vote,” said Council Member James Vacca, sponsor of Intro 463-A. “My bill, which would create an email/text-based notification system, allows for last minute and emergency electronic announcements, in addition to regular communications about election dates and polling locations. This system will ensure that New Yorkers are able to vote when an unforeseen circumstance, such as a natural disaster or local emergency, prevents voting at a regular polling place. I have long been an advocate for using technology to increase access to voting or voting information in any way possible, and I’m glad that my bill was made a priority. I thank Speaker Mark-Viverito and Chair Kallos for their commitment to my bill and this voting reform legislative package as a whole.”

Introduction 659-A, sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, would require the BOE to provide a website and mobile application that allows the public to easily access information about elections. The website and application would allow users to:

    track the status of their absentee application and ballot;
  • view their registration status;
  • view the party for which they are a registered member;
  • view the federal, state, and local election districts in which they reside;
  • know whether they are required to bring any form of identification to vote;
  • view all elections held in the past four years for which they were registered to vote and whether or not they voted;
  • view the address at which they were previously registered to vote;
  • sign up to receive alerts, including when there is a change in their registration status; and
  • access existing resources including links to information about:
  • registering to vote;
  • updating registration information;
  • viewing sample ballots;
  • poll site locations;
  • voting hours;
  • signing up as a poll worker;
  • viewing the voter guide.

“Voters should not have to continually check their registration status before casting a ballot. But unless Albany finally updates its archaic and disenfranchising election laws, the onus is on voters to verify their eligibility before each election, and the Voter Information Portal makes that easier,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “I thank Speaker Mark-Viverito for prioritizing civic engagement by this Council and all my colleagues for their efforts to reverse the ever-decreasing voter turnout in our City’s elections.”

Building Violations Received After A Disaster

In the wake of disasters, residential buildings may be in violation of codes due to circumstances beyond the building owner’s control. Additionally, emergency repairs made by City recovery program employees or contractors hired by the city do not always meet building code requirements. . To protect building owners from receiving unfair penalties and violations in either of these situations, the Council will vote on two bills to protect property owners.

Introduction 1037-A, sponsored by Council Member Mark Treyger, requires that owners or occupants of buildings affected by disasters shall not be subject to civil or criminal penalties for building code violations immediately after such disaster or while enrolled in a disaster recovery program. The legislation creates an affirmative defense to violations received immediately after a disaster for failure to maintain the property. Additionally, the bill also creates an affirmative defense to violations received by homeowners for failure to maintain the property or remove snow when the owner is displaced and the building is undergoing or scheduled for work by a recovery program, and allows the Commissioner of Sanitation to establish additional such affirmative defenses by rule. Under the legislation, any penalties or fines already paid for any such violations issued since Hurricane Sandy can be waived or refunded.

“People waiting for assistance from the City’s recovery programs should not be issued violations or fines by city agencies. This type of behavior undermines the public’s trust, faith and willingness to participate in these recovery programs. Nobody should be left worse off by the recovery process than if they never participated in it at all, and the onus should be on the city and contractors to comply with rules and regulations related to Sandy Recovery work, not residents. When the City makes you wait for repairs, you should not be penalized for it, and when the City hires a contractor to perform recovery work on your house, you should not be penalized if the City or its contractor fails to do the work properly. I am proud of this legislation, and would like to thank my colleague Alan Maisel for partnering to make sure that residents already suffering because of Superstorm Sandy do not have to deal with additional, unwarranted financial burdens,” said Council Member Mark Treyger.

Introduction 448-A, sponsored by Council Member Alan Maisel, would require that owners or occupants of buildings shall not be subject to a civil or criminal penalty for violations resulting from work done by a city employee, or party under contract with the city, in response to a natural or man-made disaster, provided that such condition was cured either by the recipient or the city. Any penalties or fines already paid for any such violations issued since Hurricane Sandy can be waived or refunded.

“I am very pleased that Intro 448A will be voted on today. This legislation is designed to help protect property owners who rely on city recovery programs after a natural disaster. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, in my district alone, we saw hundreds of property owners struggle to find licensed professionals for needed recovery work. New York City’s Rapid Repairs and Build It Back programs were formed and while the intention was good, some of the recovery efforts may have resulted in property owners receiving fines for that same work which was completed by the city recovery programs’ designated contractors. In these cases, it is critical that the city not penalize property owners for joining a program that elected officials and city agencies directed them to join. This legislation creates a process to protect building owners from civil and criminal penalties when the violation is for repair work done by a city disaster recovery program or its contractor. It also provides for a possible waiver or refund for any such violations previously issued since Superstorm Sandy,” said Council Member Alan Maisel.