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WEEKLY REPORT: POLICE REFORM, POVERTY, GUN VIOLENCE AND PANDEMIC PROTECTIONS ON THE AGENDA IN COUNCIL’S FIRST FALL SESSION

In Cherelle Parker, Council News, Curtis Jones, Jr., Darrell L. Clarke, Featured, Helen Gym, Jamie Gauthier, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Kendra Brooks, Kenyatta Johnson, Maria D. Quiñones-Sánchez, News by PHL Council

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Three Police Reform Measures Advance

City Council picked up where it left off on the important issue of police reform at its first Meeting since June, as three reform measures moved forward Thursday.

First, a residency requirement ordinance requiring all applicants for civil service – including the police force – to be residents of Philadelphia for at least one year before hiring became law when Mayor Kenney returned the bill to Council without signing it.

The residency reform law, introduced by Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District) with Majority Leader Cherelle Parker (9th District) is designed to promote more diversity in hiring by the Police Department so that the force “looks more like the people it is sworn to protect,” as Councilmember Parker has put it.

Next, a bill offered this spring by Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District) that would ban the use of chokeholds by police as a matter of city law received an amendment today, positioning the “Let Philly Breathe” bill for final passage next week. The amendment added a definition for serious bodily injury consistent with state law.

Lastly, legislation from Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At Large) that would require a public hearing before any changes are made to the city’s contract with the Fraternal Order of Police received an amendment, which also sets the bill up for final passage next week. The amendment clarified that the reform pertains to the city’s main contract with the FOP, and spelled out the process by which the mayor notifies Council of the contract’s status.

Poverty Action Plan Moves Forward

In early March, City Council and the Kenney administration, with business and non-profit leaders and advocates, unveiled the results of nearly a year of work and outlined a Poverty Action Plan for Philadelphia. The city has more than 400,000 residents living in poverty – the highest rate of any big city in the nation.

Two weeks later, the Coronavirus pandemic descended upon Philadelphia and the country.  As Council President Clarke and other Council leaders made clear in the intervening six months, Philadelphia cannot return to the “old normal” once the pandemic lifts. We need a “New Normal” across the city – to provide more affordable housing, healthy foods, access to health care, job training and much more.

Thursday, Councilmember Maria Quiñones Sánchez (7th District), a key architect of Council’s anti-poverty initiative, introduced a budget transfer ordinance at Council President Clarke’s request. The budget bill transfers $10 million from Council’s budget into the city General Fund.

The legislation’s intent: “It is the intent of Council through this ordinance to support a grant to the Philadelphia Poverty Action Fund upon the establishment of the Fund as a non-profit organization dedicated to providing direct programs and services that demonstrably reduce poverty.”

Councilmember Quinones Sanchez is working with Council President Clarke, the co-chairs of the Poverty Action Plan, business and non-profit leaders to lay the groundwork for the establishment of the Poverty Action Fund, a key next step.

Focus on Reducing Gun Violence

Philadelphia has over 300 homicides, 2,300 shooting incidents, and nearly 1,400 shooting victims in 2020. All those numbers are 30 percent higher – in some cases much more – than last year. Young people are caught in the cross-fire as they sit on family porches.

Council members took two actions this week on this unrelenting public health epidemic. Councilmember Curtis Jones, Jr. (4th District), chairman of Council’s Public Safety Committee, announced plans to hold hearings to examine the last 100 shooting incidents in Philadelphia. Jones wants to drill down on where the guns came from in these shootings, as well as who the shooters and victims were, and their prior contacts with the city’s criminal justice system.

Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (3rd District), meanwhile, is urging Mayor Kenney to declare a state of emergency in Philadelphia around gun violence, and to direct more resources at neighborhood violence reduction strategies.

Councilmembers Act on COVID-19’s Impact on Philadelphians 

The COVID-19 pandemic has struck Philadelphia as hard as it has many urban centers across America. Nearly 35,000 infections have been reported, and 1,763 Philadelphians have died. Today, two Councilmembers stepped up to address the virus’ impact on ordinary Philadelphians. At Large Councilmembers Helen Gym and Kendra Brooks introduced a measure that would extend a city moratorium on tenant evictions by landlords until December 31st, in keeping with policies recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Finally, paid sick leave legislation, offered by Councilmember Brooks, would expand current city sick leave law to include workers in the city not covered by federal sick leave legislation. The bill requires employers to provide two weeks of paid sick leave to workers until the end of the year. Significantly, the bill covers so-called “gig workers”, such as those working for Uber or GrubHub, and gives workers access to sick leave immediately rather than requiring them to accrue it.

Brooks’ legislation sparked back-and-forth with other Council members over the precise meaning and reach of several words in the legislation, including how the new bill would interact with the city’s existing paid sick leave law.  After an extended back and forth, Council agreed that the Kenney administration should promulgate regulations to clarify the new ordinance’s reach and intent.

Seen on Social Media…

In Other News…

When a 911 Call Becomes a Hate Crime. Councilmember Parker introduced legislation that would make a 911 call a hate crime when it can be demonstrated that there is racial or ethnic animus underlying the call.  The bill is in response to infamous incidents across the country where white complainants have called 911 operators and accused black citizens of criminal behavior – where none exists.

Ensuring the Census and Mail-In Voting are Handled Correctly.  Councilmember Gilmore Richardson introduced a resolution calling on the Philadelphia Postmaster to meet with Congressman Dwight Evans and the Philadelphia congressional delegation to discuss the alleged removal of sorting machines from Philadelphia area post offices, which could cause delays in the processing of Census forms and mail-in ballots.

Census Week in Philadelphia is Next Week. Councilmember Parker introduced a separate resolution declaring next week as Census Week in Philadelphia. The country has until September 30th for residents to complete census forms and return them to the federal government. Councilmembers all donned masks at the start of Thursday’s session highlighting the urgent need to fill out the census. Every resident who is not counted in Philadelphia will cost the city $21,000 in federal funds it will never receive.

 

Philadelphia Facts and Figures

Source: Keystone Counts, U.S. Census Bureau

 

The next Stated Meeting of City Council is scheduled to take place on Thursday, September 17th, at 10 a.m. The Meeting will be held remotely due to the ongoing pandemic, and will air on Xfinity Ch. 64, Fios Channel 40,and stream at www.PHLCouncil.com/watch.

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