In 2017, the Council advanced transparency, access, and digital inclusion through the implementation of new systems, legislation, and engagement strategies. Building on the tenets outlined in the Council 2.0 roadmap, these projects were designed to share information and resources, bring New Yorkers into government processes and create efficiency.
Forwarding Engagement and Inclusion through Digital
The passage of reforms to the Council’s rules in 2014 called for the development of a public technology plan. Council 2.0, released in 2015, called for the creation of a new Council website. The Council developed a new multi-media, mobile-friendly website, integrating public feedback in the open, called Council Labs. This experimental website, which tested out new ways to share information with the public, was adopted as the Council’s official website in early 2017.
In November, the Council released its legislative application programming interface to the public, allowing civic innovators and other users to directly connect with our legislative data to build apps and tools. This API provided the foundation for a new legislative portal of the website – laws.council.nyc.gov – which adapted nyc.councilmatic.org, an open-source project that allows the public to search legislation and sign up for notifications about specific issues, individual Council Members, and hearings or events.
Reaching Neighborhood and Ethnic Media
In 2017, the Council introduced resources for reaching multilingual audiences including a glossary, a map of languages spoken by Council district and neighborhood, and a translation pilot to further commitment to proactively engaging community and ethnic media, which reach 4.4 million New Yorkers, in order to expand capacity at the Council for translation, especially across these new digital platforms. The Council also built additional infrastructure for community and ethnic media to engage with Council offices, including several roundtable events, a translation pilot, and data visualization tools.
Making Voter Registration Online Easier
The Council worked to make voter registration easier and more efficient through a universal online voter registration system. New Yorkers with a driver’s license or non-driver state identification could register to vote online through the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) portal. However, many people do not have either of those IDs despite being U.S. citizens and residents and eligible to vote.
To close this gap, the Council passed legislation that will result in the Online Voter Registration law. This legislation designates the Campaign Finance Board (CFB) as an agency that will create an online voter registration portal and mobile application that allows individuals to complete voter registration forms online and that will accept a high-quality and accurate digital signature. The CFB will transmit registrations to the New York City Board of Elections.
Mandating Language Access Plans and Services
New Yorkers who are learning English or who are more proficient in languages other than English should be able to access an array of information and services that help communities navigate the City. This year, the Council expanded and codified a previous Mayoral Executive Order to ensure that all agencies develop language access plans and provide language access services in the top 10 languages spoken throughout the City, in addition to English. The first six languages are determined by census data, while the additional four are to be determined by agencies’ own service data. Lastly, the law includes a reporting requirement on the implementation of language access plans.
Saving Critical Emergency Time
Many businesses where the public has telephone access, such as hotels, use multi-line systems that require callers to dial 9 before placing an external call. In Texas, this was a fatal technical problem. A young child witnessed a domestic violence crime against her mother and dialed 9-1-1 in a motel room in which they were seeking refuge. First responders could not reach the mother in time, as the motel required a prefix for all calls. The Council passed legislation that will require certain businesses and City agencies to update their phone technology to permit users to directly dial 9-1-1, which can save valuable time, and potentially lives, in emergency situations.
Strengthening the Quality of Information through Open Data
Increased technology usage means that the City accumulates greater amounts of public data–ranging from the number of accidents at high-traffic intersections to the types of 311 service requests the City receives. A package of Open Data Law amendments strengthens the quality and comprehensiveness of the City’s public data, including requiring a new database that helps the public keep track of each agency’s progress in meeting the goals of their original Open Data compliance plans.
Easing Permit and Licenses Applications
Applying for city permits, licenses, and registrations often means navigating through multiple agency websites and sometimes submitting applications in person. This year, the Council passed legislation that will ease this process. This law requires a mayoral agency to study the feasibility of allowing all agency applications for permits, licenses, and registrations to be accessed from a single web portal and submitted online.
Supporting small business owners
As announced in the Speaker’s State of the City address, this year the Council passed legislation requiring the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS) to post online business tools and resources on the City’s website. These tools will include accounting, record-keeping, and bookkeeping services.
The Council also passed legislation requiring the City to conduct a “State of Small Business Survey,” and to produce a workforce development plan based on the results of the survey.
The addition of online business tools stemmed from research showing that several other major North American cities include these types of resources on their small business websites. The workforce development bills reflect concerns expressed by advocates that the Council could be playing a larger role in shaping workforce development considering the Administration’s shift towards a career pathways approach.