Councilmembers speak about safe firearms disposal event at council

WEEKLY REPORT: COMMUNITY LEADERS URGE HOME GUN CHECKS; COUNCIL, MAYOR REACH COMPROMISE ON TAX ABATEMENT BILL

In Al Taubenberger, Blondell Reynolds Brown, Council News, Curtis Jones, Jr., Darrell L. Clarke, David Oh, Kenyatta Johnson, News by PHL Council

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City Council of Philadelphia Weekly Report logoCouncilmembers, Community Leaders, and Police Urge Home Gun Checks, Announce Safe Firearms Disposal Locations

City Councilmembers stood side-by-side with community anti-violence advocates, religious leaders and Philadelphia police Thursday to unveil a new initiative aimed at getting citizens to turn in guns at safe, designated locations around the city, no questions asked.

The “home gun check” campaign comes in response to a wave of recent shootings in Philadelphia, particularly incidents involving children. A 2-year-old girl was shot and killed by a bullet that went through the window of her family’s Kensington home. An 11-month-old boy was critically wounded during an alleged dispute between drug dealers. A 10-year-old boy was shot in Frankford as he walked home from school. Last week, a 16-year-old girl was shot and killed as she got off a SEPTA bus in North Philadelphia. The victim, Ceani Smalls, was the 106th person under the age of 18 shot in Philadelphia in 2019. Overall, more than 1,350 people have been shot in the city this year.

Councilmembers and anti-violence activists said home gun checks and safe disposal are two strategies that residents can embrace in helping to fight an epidemic of gun violence in Philadelphia. Council has passed various gun violence prevention measures, including legislation prohibiting guns at city recreation centers, a lost or stolen handgun reporting law, a law making it easier for individuals seeking court orders to remove guns from others’ possession, and legislation requiring gun owners in homes where children live to keep their firearms safely secured in locked containers.

“We will continue to do what we have to do in Council to deal with the problems associated with too many guns on our streets,” said Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District). “But we cannot do this alone, and neither can the police. We need citizens to do their part and exercise personal responsibility. If you know where a gun is in your home and it has no legal purpose, take the gun and safely dispose of it at one of the locations we’re announcing today.”

Clarke was joined at the news conference in Council chambers by acting Philadelphia Police Commissioner Christine Coulter, Bilal Qayyum, a community anti-violence advocate, local ministers, and victims of gun violence. The group was joined by Councilmembers Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District) and Curtis Jones, Jr. (4th District) and , co-chairs of Council’s Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention.

“If we recover one gun from this effort, or two or five, logic is that gun will not be used in the commission of a crime or to harm someone,” Commissioner Coulter said. “Philadelphia police fully support this initiative.”

The home gun checks initiative will begin this Saturday, December 7, at two city locations. Every Murder Is Real, at 59 E. Haines St. in Germantown, and Bible Way Baptist Church, at 1323 N. 52nd St. in West Philadelphia, will be open to accept guns – no questions asked – between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Next Saturday, December 14, the initiative will continue at two other locations. Taylor Memorial Baptist Church at 3817 Germantown Avenue in North Philadelphia, and Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church at 419 S. 6th St. in South Phila., will accept guns turned in from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Councilmember Johnson, holding a large, black gun safe container, closed the news conference by passionately urging people to turn in guns. “This is a crisis and unless we act now, we’re going to lose a whole generation of young people to violence,” Johnson said.

Council Gives Preliminary Approval to Change in Tax Abatement, 2nd Bill Increases Homestead Exemption for over 200,000 Homeowners

Following a four-hour hearing Tuesday and a last-minute exchange of letters Thursday between Mayor Jim Kenney and Council President Clarke, Council today gave preliminary approval to Bill 190944, which “phases down” the residential tax abatement by 10 percent annual increments over the next decade.

While the media focused on the intrigue of which side compromised first – the mayor facing a potential veto override or a Council facing a mayoral veto – Council President Clarke, in a letter to Mayor Kenney Thursday, chose to focus on the underlying purpose of reforming the abatement law.

“Thank you for your communication this morning concerning Bill 190944, which amends the tax abatement for new residential construction in Philadelphia,” Clarke wrote in his response to the mayor. “Once enacted, this legislation is projected to generate an additional $275 million in tax revenues – with 55 percent going to the School District of Philadelphia to support children and their educational futures. The remainder of the revenues will augment needed city services, including police and public safety, relief for homeowners facing rising property taxes, and other pressing needs of our citizens.”

In a letter earlier Thursday to Council President Clarke, Mayor Kenney said he could not sign the version of the abatement reform that a Council committee approved Tuesday, saying he wanted the implementation date of the bill pushed back by six months, to December 31, 2020. This represented a concession by the mayor from his original position at the hearing, when his chief of staff urged Council to set an effective date of July 1, 2021.

In his response to the mayor, Clarke noted the mayor’s concession on timing, and said “in the spirit of compromise,” Council would amend the bill to set a start date of Dec. 31, 2020.  Both sides compromised by six months.

Reforming the controversial tax abatement has been discussed in Council, and debated by pundits and advocates, for years. On Thursday, City Council, just one week prior to the end of its current term, acted and gave the reform preliminary approval for the first time. The bill will be listed for final passage next Thursday, Dec. 12th – Council’s final, scheduled meeting.

The proposed changes to the abatement law would not impact abatements on commercial real estate projects or rehabilitations of existing residences.

In another important vote on property tax reform, Council gave preliminary approval Thursday to legislation introduced by Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson that will increase the city’s existing Homestead Exemption for homeowners by an additional $5,000.  It would impact an estimated 220,000 eligible homeowners and cost the city approximately $15 million per year.

“We need to do something for homeowners who are experiencing rising property values, and higher property assessments and taxes, through no fault of their own,” said Council President Clarke, explaining the rationale for the Homestead Exemption increase.  At a hearing on the legislation Tuesday, Kenney administration officials said they supported the theory of the legislation but could not fully support it, preferring to discuss the issue during budget hearings next spring. The homestead exemption increase legislation received unanimous support Thursday on first-reading, and goes to next week’s final passage calendar.

Wage Tax Relief Legislation for Families in Poverty Passes Council

In other tax reform legislation, a bill from Councilmember Allan Domb (At Large) that will provide wage tax relief for lower-income Philadelphians received final approval in Council Thursday. It now goes to the mayor for consideration.

Domb’s legislation – Bill 190746 – will allow 60,000 Philadelphia households living in poverty to be reimbursed annually for the wage taxes they pay to the city.

Under Domb’s bill, the current reimbursement amount of half a percent would be increased beginning next year to 2.36 percent, the city’s portion of the wage tax rate. This reform would allow a family of four earning an income of $34,250 to receive about $810 annually.

“We want to provide struggling families with any amount of relief in order to help with their financial needs,” Domb said. “Any little bit helps, and we have the authority in City Council to provide the maximum refund possible.”

Councilmember Squilla Amends Plastic Bag Ban and Bed Bug Legislation

In two more examples of legislative compromise, a bill that would ban single-use plastic bags in Philadelphia and another bill that seeks to regulate the public health problem of bed bugs in apartments and homes received preliminary approval with amendments that seek common ground among a wide array of interest groups. Both bills are sponsored by Councilmember Mark Squilla (1st District).

On the plastic bag ban bill, Squilla offered an amendment that would extend the reach of the plastic bag ban to include more plastic bags than previous versions of the legislation, but still keeps out a fee on paper bags that environmentalists wanted to see in any final version of the bill.

Three prior attempts to ban plastic bags in Philadelphia failed over the last decade, and Councilmember Squilla has doggedly pursued reform legislation this year. The plastic bag bill as amended moves to final passage next week.

Squilla also offered an amendment on his bed bugs legislation designed to make it clear who has responsibility for ensuring apartments and residences are clear of bed bugs – landlords or tenants. Squilla’s amendment on bed bugs requires landlords to pay the costs of remediating bug infestations if discovered during the first year of a tenancy. After a year, landlords and tenants will split the costs.  The amendment passed unanimously and moves to final passage next week.

Inside the Rail…

Councilmember Blondell Reynolds Brown (At Large) has served in Council since 1999. Thursday marked her penultimate Council meeting, as the veteran member chose not to seek re-election in 2019.

In an eloquent valedictory speech Thursday, Councilmember Reynolds Brown traced her career in public life, urging members to treat one another with courtesy and respect and to act with humility, not arrogance – hallmarks of the Councilmember’s long career.  She also thanked multiple staff members who have served her and Council over her two decades in office.

Also, thursday, Councilmember Al Taubenberger (At Large) introduced a resolution recognizing the Mütter Museum’s exhibition detailing the impact of the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 in Philadelphia, and urging citizens to see the exhibit.

Councilmember David Oh (At Large) introduced a resolution designating next week as Army Week in Philadelphia, leading up to the iconic Army-Navy football game at Lincoln Financial Field on December 14, 2019. (As an Army vet himself, it is possible that Councilmember Oh may be a bit biased as to the outcome of the game.)

The next Stated Meeting of City Council – the final, scheduled meeting of this term — will be held on Thursday, Dec. 12, at 10 a.m. in Council Chambers on the 4th floor at City Hall.

Your next Weekly Report from City Council will be Friday, Dec. 13.

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