City Hall: Council Meeting Highlights for Oct. 3, 2019

Philadelphia City Council held its general meeting Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019, at which several resolutions were introduced.

Councilmember Cherelle Parker introduced a resolution calling for a hearing to explore eliminating fines at the Free Library of Philadelphia, as well as eliminating patrons’ outstanding debt.

Parker cited research by the American Library Association and the Urban Libraries Council that suggests eliminating overdue fees increase book return and circulation rates. According to a press release announcing the resolution, over 200 municipalities have adopted the practice.

“Our goal as a city is to ensure that as many residents as possible can access our library system to conduct research, further their education, and increase overall literacy,” Parker said in a press release.

Parker said the library system collects around $400,000 in annual fines.

In response to the resolution, the Free Library said that it has been studying the impact of a fine-free system for the past year, referencing the introduction of a fine-free children’s library card that has been in effect since 2013 as a successful implementation of a similar policy. 

The Free Library stated that revenue from fines goes toward payments to the City, volunteer programs, children’s outreach programs, book and material purchases, and technology needs. Fine revenue is not used for personnel or infrastructure costs and would not impact jobs or library hours.

Pilot Program

Councilmember Al Taubenberger introduced a privileged resolution authorizing the City Council Committee on Aging to hold hearings regarding the potential for a pilot program designed to use an automated calling system in order to provide benefits to the city’s senior population and to combat senior isolation.

“I think this is an important resolution,” Taubenberger said. “It is modeled after a program in Cleveland and I would like to discuss it fully. I think having this hearing would be most appropriate.”

Department of Human Services Resolution

Councilmember David Oh introduced a nonprivileged resolution authorizing the establishment of a special committee to hold hearings on child separation in Philadelphia. The committee would develop recommendations to ensure compliance with state child protective services laws to protect children and the due process rights of families.

After the conclusion of the meeting, Oh said more parents had been coming forward with evidence of their children being improperly removed from their custody.

“I did introduce a resolution that was defeated under the claim that there was an existing task force that was looking into it,” Oh said. 

Oh said that when the parents addressed their concerns with the task force, they were told that DHS issues were not within its scope. After meeting with the parents himself, Oh reintroduced the resolution.

“What this resolution tries to create is a City Council special committee, which is what we’re supposed to do in exercising our oversight over the administration,” Oh said.

Oh said DHS is a very important organization full of well-meaning people who are committed to helping children, but there are questions as to whether DHS is in full compliance with state law in regards their assessment procedures.

“The evidence is whether or not in the process DHS is using gut instinct, suspicion, rather than reasonable suspicion or evidence,” Oh said. “These are things that are required by state law.”

Bills Passed

Council bills 190558, 190559, and 190651 passed unanimously.

Bill 190558 requires organizations that serve youth to implement policies that protect trans and nonbinary young people from discrimination, and requires training for staff who work with youth.

Bill 190559 requires one gender neutral bathroom be installed on each floor of City Hall.

Bill 190651 amends the city’s anti-discrimination law to include more expansive definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The three bills that we’re passing today are a package of bills that have been a long time in the making,” Councilmember Helen Gym said. “Collectively, they help us think about the city we want to live in and proactively thinking about who we stand up for and how we stand up for each other, and what’s right in this moment.”

Lawrence McGlynn is a recent graduate of Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication where he earned a Master’s in Journalism. For the next several months he will be reporting out of City Hall on various council and committee meetings, the city’s budget, and how these impact the daily lives of Philadelphians.

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