COUNCILMEMBER THOMAS INTRODUCES AMENDMENT TO DRIVING EQUALITY BILL IN COLLABORATION WITH PHILADELPHIA POLICE
Following a unanimous vote out of City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, Councilmember Isaiah Thomas (At Large) offered an amendment to his Driving Equality bill this week. The amendments make the bill effective 120 days following passage, and also retain automobile muffler violations as a primary violation, subject to car stops by police. The amendments follow town hall and community conversations engaged in by the Councilmember.
“My Driving Equality bill reclassifies certain motor vehicle codes so that we keep the traffic stops that promote public safety, and end the traffic stops that promote discrimination,” Councilmember Thomas. “While I know the issue of racial discrimination in traffic stops firsthand, this has always been about Philadelphia as a whole. In hearing misconceptions from community members and training concerns from police officers, the bill needed to be amended to make sure this is done effectively.”
The unamended version of the Driving Equality bill lists a broken taillight as a secondary violation. The amendment specifies language to outline that the secondary violation (meaning a traffic stop would not be used) is only around a single light bulb not being illuminated. If multiple brake lights, headlights or running lights are not being illuminated then the vehicle presents a primary violation and a traffic stop is permitted.
Additionally, the amended Driving Equality bill removes “Exhaust Systems, Mufflers and Noise Control” as a secondary violation and will keep these violations as primary, where a traffic stop is permitted. After conversations with community members, and with the reality of ATVs and drag racing in Philadelphia, Councilmember Thomas seeks to find other methods of enforcing these types of violations. Using the second Driving Equality bill, which mandates the collection and publication of all traffic stops in Philadelphia, Thomas’ office will closely monitor that reclassified secondary violations are not compromising on public safety while evaluating that primary violations are not being used to discriminate.
“As a Councilmember At-Large, I represent the entire city and must ensure that any legislation does not suffer from unintended harmful consequences,” Councilmember Thomas explained. “After listening to communities across the city, some that support and some that oppose Driving Equality, I believe that changes had to be made. Since we began this process, noise control issues with ATVs and drag racing have grown to the forefront of constituent issues. I believe there are other ways to solve those issues than through my Driving Equality agenda. With the accompanying data bill, we are able to closely monitor all violations (primary and secondary) to make sure we are achieving the goal of promoting equality without compromising on public safety.”
On the issue of training and timeline, the Police Department requested time, following the bill’s passage, to properly train officers. Councilmember Thomas agreed to a requested 120-day timeline to ensure that rank-and-file officers are properly briefed and trained on the changes through Driving Equality and able to effectively implement without sacrificing public safety.
BILLS EXTENDING EMERGENCY ORDINANCE ALLOWING OUTDOOR DINING UNTIL JUNE 2022 INTRODUCED
After a Councilmember introduced legislation last week seeking to make permanent outdoor dining facilities in Philadelphia – created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District) had legislation introduced this week by Majority Leader Cherelle Parker (9th District) that would extend the emergency authorization allowing outdoor dining structures until June 30, 2022 – but retaining control of the approval process in City Council’s hands, where it has historically resided under city law and the Home Rule Charter.
Last week, Councilmember Allan Domb (At Large) introduced a pair of bills that would establish new regulations to allow for permanent outdoor dining across every neighborhood, with the approvals being controlled by the Streets Department.
This week, Council President Clarke had a pair of bills introduced by Majority Leader Parker that would extend the emergency authorization for these sidewalk cafes and streeteries, allowing them through next June, but ensuring that district Council members retain oversight and control over their long-term approval process – a power which Councilmembers have historically had.
Councilmember Domb’s Bill No. 210776, introduced September 30, authorizes the Streets Department in its sole discretion to close any street to allow for streeteries and sidewalk cafés, without public or neighborhood input. If approved, it would remove Council from the approval process provided for under the Home Rule Charter and Philadelphia Code, and eliminate Council’s responsibility over these issues.
“I support streeteries and sidewalk cafés that make sense for each neighborhood, but every block and neighborhood in Philadelphia is not the same,” Council President Clarke said, explaining his rationale for the legislation introduced Thursday. “That’s why I have introduced legislation which would extend the deadline for the COVID-19 emergency waiver that City Council passed at the beginning of the pandemic to June 30th, 2022. I believe that if streeteries and sidewalk cafés are to become permanent fixtures in Philadelphia after these emergency measures are no longer needed, citizens, neighborhoods, and Councilmembers should have input to ensure all impacts (i.e., ADA compliance, pedestrian needs, and parking) are considered before allowing a permanent building in the public right-of-way.”
In support of his legislation, Councilmember Domb said: “With the emergency approvals expiring at the end of 2021, we need to establish legislation that would continue this great city amenity that we’ve enjoyed as a result of the pandemic. Restaurants of all sizes across the city utilized this opportunity and because of it, they were able to keep their doors open and employees working — all while continuing to overcome the challenges with maintaining a safe and healthy environment.”
The two sets of bills will be referred to a Council committee for a public hearing at a later date.
IN THE AFTERMATH OF JEFFERSON HOSPITAL SHOOTING, COUNCILMEMBER JONES SPEAKS ON CITY’S RED FLAG LAWS
Earlier this week, in a terrible incident of workplace violence, a nursing assistant at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital entered the hospital, targeted a co-worker, and shot him to death. After an ensuing gun battle with police in which the shooter shot two officers and was himself shot, he was apprehended.
This week in Council, Councilmember Curtis Jones, Jr. (4th District), who chairs Council’s Public Safety Committee, reminded his colleagues of Council’s existing red-flag law, which makes it easier for family members or friends to petition the court to order firearms be taken away from someone perceived to be a threat to themselves or others. Evidence is emerging that the shooter in this case had firearms taken away from him at some point in time, but a local judge ordered the guns returned to him.
“We passed a law, November of 2019 – a red-flag law – allowing a spouse, a family member, a co-worker, a school principal, anyone – to petition the court to order an individual’s firearms be removed if they exhibit behavior making them a danger to themselves or others,” Jones said in Council. “When we pass these laws, we intend for them to be enforced – by the courts. If someone is determined to be a danger on Monday, we must believe that on Tuesday.”
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— Philadelphia Public Health (@PHLPublicHealth) October 5, 2021
IN OTHER NEWS…
Councilmember Brooks Resolution Honoring Dorothy Bolden as a Champion of Workers Rights for Domestic Workers. Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At Large), introduced a resolution that passed Council on Thursday, honoring Dorothy Bolden for her life’s work in support of equal rights and basic protections for domestic workers under federal law – rights these workers do not enjoy to this day.
Brooks’ resolution noted the protections approved in 2019 by City Council for domestic workers in Philadelphia, under a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. More than 16,000 people, primarily women of color, work as domestic workers in Philadelphia.
Councilmember Gym Calls for Community-Led Process for New Superintendent of Schools. Councilmember Helen Gym (At Large) introduced a resolution that was approved, calling for public hearings on the search and hiring process of the next Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia. The hearings will supplement the School Board’s community hearings and solicit the perspectives and experiences of families, students, teachers, and support staff – voices essential to shaping the future of Philadelphia’s public schools.
“This is an opportunity to start a new era for our schools and our city, led by the voices of people who have been moving our district toward growth and inclusion and away from disinvestment and neglect,” said Councilmember Gym, Chair of the Committee on Children and Youth. “A robust process that centers the voices of our city’s children, parents, teachers, and support staff — those who walk the halls of our schools every day — will ensure we select a leader who shares our transformative vision for public education and works to implement it in partnership with us all.”
City Council hearings will reinforce the District’s responsibility to publicly engage communities in meaningful conversation about the future of the city’s schools. These hearings will specifically highlight underrepresented voices and address long term racial inequities which have deepened over the last decade. Hearings will be held this fall in a joint committee of Children and Youth and Education, which is chaired by Councilmember Maria Quiñones Sánchez (7th District).
OTHER SIGHTS AND SOUNDS FROM THE COUNCIL WEEK
PHILADELPHIA FACTS AND FIGURES
The next Stated Meeting of City Council is scheduled to take place on Thursday, October 14, 2021 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.
Featured Photo: Elevated Angles for Visit Philadelphia