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Philly City Council members share their priorities for the new session. We’ll be watching. | Editorial

The Inquirer Editorial Board asked each member of City Council what they plan to accomplish in the fall session.

Grid of 16 of the 17 members of Philadelphia City Council
Grid of 16 of the 17 members of Philadelphia City CouncilRead moreJohn Duchneskie

On Thursday, Sept. 12, City Council returns to session after a three-month summer break. The spring session was largely overshadowed by the primary election. Now, with many council members effectively reelected — either because they are unopposed in November’s general election or because in a city as strongly Democratic as Philadelphia, it’s unlikely they’ll be unseated — Council should be able to focus on doing its job: legislating.

Many critical issues that helped shape the primary campaigns actually received close to no attention in the Council chamber last session. For example, for all the talk about the future of the 10-year tax abatement, Council didn’t hold a single hearing about any of the proposed reforms.

Campaigns force those running for election to get specific about what their goals and intentions are. Incumbents and safe members often can avoid being pinned down — or held to account.

To get a sense of what we as a city can and should expect from City Council in the next few months, and to be able to hold council members accountable in the end of the session, we asked all members of City Council about their legislative priorities for the coming session. We asked very specific questions; some provided specific answers, some general, and Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell didn’t respond at all. Their responses are printed here, edited for clarity and length. The Inquirer Editorial Board will check back in December to measure these goals against reality.

Mark Squilla: Ban plastic bags

District 1, Democrat

“[I hope] to pass Bill No. 190610, which encourages consumers to use more eco-friendly shopping bags. The legislation bans plastic bags and charges for paper bags. We expect to schedule a hearing in the Licenses and Inspection Committee in October and pass before the end of the year. This legislation is better for the environment and will keep our streets cleaner.”

Kenyatta Johnson: Implement violence-prevention plan

District 2, Democrat

“My number one priority for the fall session will be to continue the fight against gun violence. Specifically, that means implementing the city’s comprehensive violence-prevention plan. The plan was the culmination of a joint effort between Council’s Standing Committee on Gun Violence — which I founded and chair — and Mayor Kenney’s Office of Violence Prevention. It is supported by a commitment of $32 million in new funds for violence prevention over the next five years. And for the first time ever, department heads across city government are meeting biweekly to coordinate on violence prevention. I am also working now with Council colleagues to further increase resources for violence prevention and to maximize the impact of those resources. That includes high-fidelity implementation of proven models like Focused Deterrence and Cure Violence, expanded support of community-based organizations, expanded hours for public facilities, and low-barrier employment opportunities. We can’t wait for politicians in D.C. and Harrisburg to finally act. If we’re going to reduce gun violence in Philadelphia, we’re going to have to do it ourselves.”

Jannie Blackwell

District 3, Democrat

Editor’s note: Councilwoman Blackwell did not respond to our requests to participate in this piece.

Curtis Jones, Jr.: Remove firearms from those who pose an imminent threat

District 4, Democrat

“During the fall session, I intend to move forward with Bill No. 180553, which I introduced in May of 2018. This legislation seeks to establish a procedure within our court system for the temporary removal of firearms from those who pose an imminent threat of harm to themselves or others. This process would allow for certain individuals (a family or household member, a school official, any law enforcement officer, or any attorney for the commonwealth) to petition the court for a gun violence protection order when they present specific statements, actions, or facts concerning an individual who poses immediate danger to themselves or the community due to continued possession of a firearm. Upon determination by a judge at a hearing, a ruling can be issued that would allow the temporary removal of firearms from that individual, until that individual no longer poses that threat. By removing firearms from those experiencing stated extreme emotional distress — allowing calmer heads and a cooling-off period — we may be able to foresee and prevent bloodshed. If someone tells you there will be violence, we should believe them.”

Darrell L. Clarke: Prohibit guns and weapons from playgrounds

District 5, Democrat

“This fall, working with my colleagues, my office will focus on legislation to help stem the tide of gun violence in Philadelphia, reduce poverty, and create more affordable housing. We will introduce Safe Havens legislation to prohibit firearms and other deadly weapons from city recreation centers and playgrounds, following incidents of gun violence at playgrounds this summer. We need state authority too, and we’re working with our colleagues in Harrisburg. We’ll also move forward on a bill to better protect police as they interact with individuals in possession of guns, and a bill giving citizens the right to ask a court to remove firearms from persons who pose a substantial risk to themselves or others.”

Bobby Henon: Combat underground economy in construction industry

District 6, Democrat

“I plan to introduce a conservation overlay in Mayfair to ensure that constituent concerns related to construction-materials use, fencing, and landscaping are addressed. I will evaluate similar legislation for other neighborhoods with each community in the Northeast. I also plan to advance and expand legislative initiatives to improve access to and training on the use of lifesaving automatic external defibrillators (AEDs), which are the most effective way to reverse cardiac arrest. Most important, I plan to advance legislation designed to combat the underground economy in the construction industry. Contractors are required to pay taxes, be licensed, insured, and permitted to conduct work and are required to protect the safety and integrity of their job sites. The City must do a better job of inspecting construction sites and work performed.”

Maria Quiñones-Sánchez: Pass domestic workers bill of rights

District 7, Democrat

"I am fighting for bold, actionable changes to the way our city supports neighborhoods and working families. An incremental policy approach has left us with intractable poverty and a growing affordability crisis, and we need to remove roadblocks so that Philadelphia’s families have access to safe housing and family-sustaining jobs so they can succeed and thrive.

The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights will establish workplace protections for over 16,000 nannies, house cleaners, and home care aides who care for our families every day. The legislation will address minimum wage standards, overtime protections, fringe benefits, and protections against race and gender discrimination.

Vacant Land Reform will help neighbors reclaim more than 40,000 vacant blight-ridden lots for affordable housing, community gardens, and side yards by holding the City accountable to an open bidding process with strict response times, and by consolidating City agencies and regulations into a one-stop shop for public land.

Finally, I now co-chair Council’s Committee on Poverty Reduction & Prevention, which will develop a Poverty Action Plan through hearings this fall. The Action Plan will overhaul the City’s incremental approach to Philadelphia’s poverty epidemic through bold and swift changes in our budgeting for housing, workforce development, and the social safety net."

Cindy Bass: Repeal or restructure tax abatement

District 8, Democrat

"It is high time for the tax abatement to be appealed, and for the City of Philadelphia to be more equitable in its tax structure. The 10-year tax abatement not only has unfairly treated its most vulnerable residents — it has not sparked the development that was promised in the areas that needed it the most.

Eighty percent of tax-abated properties in the City of Philadelphia are concentrated in three Council districts. It is unconscionable that we as a city are giving tax breaks for 10 years and at the same time, holding up much-needed renovations of our schools for our children."

Cherelle Parker: Build and strengthen commercial corridors

District 9, Democrat

"My legislative priorities will be focused on strengthening and building our commercial corridors, which are the lifeblood of communities throughout my district and every neighborhood across the city.

We will be unveiling a series of bills that are aimed at helping small businesses maintain and modernize their storefronts and streetscapes, creating jobs, reducing litter and blight, and ensuring that bottom-end national chains don’t push out locally owned stores.

Supporting small businesses, stimulating job creation/training, and reducing blight are proven methods for decreasing poverty and crime. By addressing the underlying issues simultaneously, I believe these bills would significantly improve quality of life in neighborhoods across the city. It would also expand the city’s tax base, which would enable us to make other key investments."

Brian O’Neill: Improve quality of life

District 10, Republican

“This upcoming fall session I will be introducing legislation dealing with various quality-of-life issues impacting the residents in my district. Most of the bills have been requested by neighbors in the form of a petition and deal with issues such as zoning, traffic, and parking.”

Blondell Reynolds Brown: Update lead certification in rental properties

At-large, Democrat

"My staff and I have been working on an update to the current Philadelphia law on lead certification in rental properties. Originally passed in 2011, data tell us that the law must be improved to ensure that protocols can be fairly and equitably enforced without discriminatory impact on families with young children. My office has been in ongoing discussions with commissioners and the administration, landlords, health experts, advocates, and other concerned citizens for over two years to craft a solution that creates mutual gain for all stakeholders. While we may not find common ground on all aspects of the bill, we are very close to ensuring a common understanding of the systems that will be tasked with implementation and enforcement of the updated ordinance.

There are 17 zip codes in Philadelphia, covering nine out of 10 Councilmanic districts, where more than 10 percent of children screened have elevated blood levels. According to the Mayo Clinic, children younger than 6 years old are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning. At very high levels, lead poisoning can be fatal. Exposure to even low levels of lead can cause damage over time, particularly in children. Further, lead poisoning has no known cure."

Allan Domb: Grant city wage tax reimbursements

At-large, Democrat

“Similar to the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a local version would grant reimbursements for approximately 300,000 resident wage earners making $25,000 or less. It would allow individuals to be reimbursed the annual amount they paid for the city’s Wage Tax, allowing Philadelphians to be reimbursed as much as $1,000 a year. For hardworking, low-income families trying to break the poverty cycle, an unexpected emergency, life event, or even an everyday expense can turn their lives upside down. This legislation would provide financial security for hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians and help the city move the needle on tackling poverty.”

Derek S. Green: Incentivize local purchasing for bids/RFPs

At-large, Democrat

“The Local Business Purchasing Initiative (LBPI) is a ballot question for the Nov. 5 general election. LBPI is an amendment to the City’s Charter that will increase the minimum dollar amount when a formal bid/RFP is required from $34,000 to $100,000, if contracting with a local business, and from $34,000 to $75,000 for all other businesses. Under LBPI, the contract approval process is projected to be reduced from 110 days to 30 to 45 days. Contracts will have less paperwork and this process will lessen the burden on small companies looking to do business with the City. Once passed, the City will draft regulations that will require departments to advertise these opportunities in order to increase procurement with diverse local businesses. While other cities offer a local preference on bid price, Philadelphia will be at the forefront of incentivizing local purchasing by creating a new tier specifically for local businesses. To address the city’s 26 percent poverty rate, we need to implement policies that will invest in local businesses which will grow Philadelphia out of poverty.”

William Greenlee: Hold hearings on better banking services

At-large, Democrat

“I will be introducing a resolution calling for hearings on the city’s plans to help provide access to banking services for the unbanked and under-banked. The issue repeatedly came up during the process of passing the cashless bill, so we need to take a deeper look. We are planning the hearing for October.”

Helen Gym: Allow renters to have better legal defense

At-large, Democrat

"I’m championing an equitable housing agenda via a right to counsel for renters and reforming the city’s 10-year tax abatement. Since 2017, I’ve worked to end the crisis of mass evictions, where 90% of renters don’t have an attorney and default evictions are the norm. We’ve established the first legal defense fund for renters, investing almost $2 million a year for legal assistance, arbitration, and education. Evictions are down 20% since 2017. Now I’m proposing a Right to Counsel law to provide legal assistance for renters living within 200% of the poverty line. Balancing the scales in our courts can stabilize life for renters, landlords, and our neighborhoods.

Concurrently, I’m pushing to overhaul the 10-year tax abatement, a vehicle for inequitable development and underfunding of our schools. I’ve introduced the broadest package of bills to reform the abatement and will be supporting a consensus bill this fall. Housing is a human right, and each day we make choices about whether we’re getting closer to making that reality — or not. The tax abatement is a choice about prioritizing some people over others. Denying legal representation in a court where you can lose your home is a choice. We can change those injustices and make this a city where all of us can rise."

David Oh: Bring the PPA back under city control

At-large, Republican

“Although there are many from which to choose, my priority is Bill No. 160844, which I introduced to restore municipal control of the Philadelphia Parking Authority’s On-Street Parking Program and other parking functions. This includes the administration of metered and permit parking, ticketing, garages, and the Red Light Camera Program. The PPA had been governed by city officials for its entire history until, in 2001, it was taken over by the state. Without PPA revenues, which generate $135 million each year from on-street operations alone, the state claimed that it couldn’t fund the schools. To ensure appropriate funding, the PPA agreed to transfer up to $45 million of its earnings each year to the School District. The PPA instead averaged $5.5 million over a 16-year period. This legislation, if passed, would authorize a new cooperation agreement giving the City control over revenues as well as additional oversight and accountability. Philadelphia is the only city in Pennsylvania that does not have local jurisdiction over its parking programs. The state takeover of the PPA is unconstitutional under Article III, Section 32 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The PPA gave $89.9 million to our schools from 2001-2017, $630 million less than it should have given. We can improve our schools while reducing tax burdens by restoring local control of the PPA.”

Al Taubenberger: Amend 10-year tax abatement

At-large, Republican

“I will prioritize an amendment to the city’s 10-Year Tax Abatement. Council is debating whether the abatement still makes sense as currently configured, to cut the number of years or eliminate it altogether. I want to amend it to correct a flaw. Currently, the only disqualifying factor is being delinquent on property taxes. The problem is the law says nothing about disqualifying developers who cheat the city out of taxes and other revenue. Philadelphia is a hot market for commercial and residential developers, many of whom are out-of-state. They often fail to pull necessary construction permits and licenses, misclassify workers as “1099 Independent Contractors” to avoid payroll taxes, and pay workers in cash to avoid tax implications. These unethical practices cheat the city out of significant revenue and are tantamount to being tax delinquent. That should disqualify these developers from receiving a 10-year abatement. This amendment to the 10-year tax abatement matters because the loopholes being exploited by many commercial and residential developers are costing the city millions in lost revenue.”