RENEWAL OF EMERGENCY PAID SICK LEAVE ORDINANCE SPARKS DEBATE IN COUNCIL
Legislation that would reinstate a requirement that gives thousands of Philadelphia workers up to 40 hours of paid leave to recover from COVID-19, care for a sick loved one, or get vaccinated, underwent a spirited debate in City Council on Thursday.
The bill, introduced by Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At Large), originally applied to any employer with ten or more workers and cover anyone who is required to physically report to their jobs. Two previous versions of the bill were passed in September 2020 and March 2021 respectively, with each granting thousands of workers access to paid leave to recover from COVID-19 or care for a sick family member. However, both laws expired due to sunset provisions. With COVID-19 cases in Philadelphia recently reaching record highs, and no emergency paid sick leave in place, the new push for emergency protections comes at a critical time for low-wage workers, many of whom cannot afford to stay home and miss a day’s pay.
However, several Councilmembers raised questions about what sized businesses would be regulated under Brooks’ legislation, with members pointing out that small, neighborhood-based businesses, particularly Black- and Brown-owned firms, as well as diverse chambers of commerce, were raising questions about the price tag of the bill and how much it would cost their businesses.
Councilmembers Derek Green (At Large) and Maria Quiñones Sánchez (7th District), both said that while they supported the spirit of the legislation, they were hearing from small businesses and their concerns that the bill’s mandate was too costly, coming at a time when many businesses are still trying to emerge economically from the pandemic.
Councilmember Brooks indicated that she’s heard those concerns, and offered an amendment in Thursday’s Meeting to make the legislation apply to any employer with 25 or more workers – up from the original requirement of 10 or more.
“Paid sick leave is an invaluable tool in simultaneously protecting the health and safety of low-wage workers and the well-being and trust of the public,” Councilmember Brooks said when the legislation passed out of committee. “We passed this law twice before and kept thousands of people from making the impossible choice between reporting to work sick or staying home and not being able to make rent. The most recent surge in COVID-19 case counts reminded us that we have a responsibility to show up for the workers that have carried this city on its back for nearly two years now. We must reinstate Public Health Emergency Leave.”
Brooks’ bill, as amended, will be placed on Council’s final passage calendar for the March 3rd Meeting.
COUNCIL APPROVES LEGISLATION CHANGING HOME RULE CHARTER TO ELIMINATE GENDER-BASED LANGUAGE
Legislation was approved by Council to amend the Home Rule Charter to order the removal of gender-specific language from city codes, as well as changing the Charter to create an independent Fair Housing Commission.
Both bills were introduced by Council Majority Leader Cherelle L. Parker (9th District). Regarding the gender-language reform, Parker said: “Words matter. And when words are gendered, particularly in documents like our Home Rule Charter, it can have unintended consequences, such as implying that all police officers and firefighters are men. The Home Rule Charter dates to the ‘50s, which explains some of the outdated language. It is more than past time to modernize the language we use, and removing gender-based references is a necessary step.”
Concerning the Fair Housing Commission bill, Parker said: “The Fair Housing Commission has always played an important role in protecting the health, safety, and general welfare of renters in Philadelphia, but it more than proved its worth to renters during the COVID-19 pandemic. By establishing it as a permanent commission under the Charter, we will effectively enshrine its invaluable role in supporting renters for decades to come.”
Because both bills require Home Rule Charter changes, they now go to city voters to decide in the May primary.
MEMBERS APPROVE MEASURE REQUIRING RAT ABATEMENT PLANS FROM LOCAL DEVELOPERS
Responding to a flurry of complaints from homeowners in neighborhoods across the city about rat infestations — frequently around developments and demolitions — Council has approved legislation to strengthen city laws regulating the abatement of rats.
The legislation, introduced by Councilmember Cindy Bass (8th District), at the request of Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District), requires that prior to any demolition, rehabilitation or new construction with excavation, the owner of the property must prepare a rodent control management plan for the detection and treatment of rats or rodents. At a minimum, the plan must include provisions for abatement of the site by a licensed pest control company.
“Site owners need to be held accountable and that’s what this bill is meant to do,” said Councilmember Bass, chair of Council’s Public Health Committee. “Our residents shouldn’t have to fear rodents from building sites intruding on their personal space, or the neighborhood. This has been a public safety and health concern, and I’m glad to see steps being taken in the right direction.”
“We’re hearing with increasing frequency from homeowners complaining that rats are materializing whenever there are property demolitions or excavations or new developments in their neighborhoods,” said Council President Clarke. “It isn’t right that homeowners get subjected to this public health problem through no fault of their own.”
“It’s only fair that property developers have a rat abatement plan in place to deal with this nuisance problem before it gets worse,” Clarke concluded.
One Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood told reporters of rats overrunning their block, not far from a large development involving land excavation. Similar stories have surfaced in Germantown, along with other neighborhoods.
The ordinance also requires the owners of vacant lots to have yearly inspections and rat remediations done by licensed pest control companies. The ordinance contains an exception for side yards or lots that are maintained as gardens.
SEEN ON SOCIAL MEDIA…
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COUNCIL PASSES BILL TO HELP PHILADELPHIANS COLLECT MORE THAN $600 MILLION IN TAX REFUNDS
Councilmember Allan Domb (At Large) introduced the bill requiring the City, its businesses and related payroll companies to inform employees of refund dollars available with their tax filings. The legislation is aimed at city government to do its part to help low- to moderate-income working Philadelphians collect the more than $600 million they are owed.
“This is a collaborative effort to take every step we can to help put money back into the hands of residents who need it most,” Domb said. “We want to educate our businesses and payroll service companies about all the refunds that might be available to those they employ and serve.”
The legislation will update the digital form created by the City, known as the Tax Liability Reduction Eligibility Notice, and it will provide clearly understandable language about the benefits of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Child Tax Credit and the City’s Wage Tax Refund. It will include a description for each program of the eligibility requirements, credit or refund available, application process and services available from the City to assist in applying for the benefits.
The City will notify employers of the new requirements through public postings and outreach. Council and the Kenney administration will work to get the notice out prior to this year’s tax filing deadline. Moving forward, employers will be required to provide the new Tax Liability Reduction Eligibility Notice to employees in Philadelphia by Feb. 15 annually regardless of the employee’s tax status.
“More than a hundred million dollars is left on the table each year by tens of thousands of eligible Philadelphians who did not file for the tax refunds,” said Councilmember Domb. “We cannot continue leaving this money on the table – unspent. If we truly want to help our city’s struggling families, let’s start by getting more people signed up for the very programs we’ve already created in this body and in the federal government by ensuring they’re made aware of what’s available to them.”
The EITC provides for the greatest tax refund up to $6,700 per return. About 40,000 of the total 230,000 Philadelphians eligible for EITC do not file for the refund, leaving more than $100 million sitting in Washington, D.C. every year.
IN OTHER NEWS…
For Black History Month, Members Recognize Respected Community Leaders. Councilmember Brooks introduced a resolution honoring the life of Dr. Ethel Allen, a longtime trailblazer in city and state government who was also a renowned physician. Dr. Allen served as a City Councilmember in North Philadelphia – as a Republican, and later served as Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (3rd District) introduced a resolution the life of neighborhood civic leader Elsie Wise, for her dedication to community mentorship and empowerment through her founding of the West Powelton Steppers and Drum Team, and her leadership in West Philadelphia civic groups for more than 60 years.
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, March 3, 2022 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.
Photo: Jared Piper/PHLCouncil