City Hall: City Council Highlights for Jan. 23, 2020

Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke proposed bold measures to curb gun violence at the busy stated council meeting held on Jan. 23, 2020. 

The meeting, the first since the inaugural meeting on Jan. 6, saw a flurry of bills and resolutions introduced by councilmembers, including Clarke’s resolution authorizing the hiring of legal counsel to file a lawsuit compelling the Commonwealth to enact stronger gun laws, or allow Philadelphia and other municipalities to create their own. 

Clarke, framing the issue as a public health crisis, said this legal action was required to deal with the epidemic of violence the city is experiencing. 

“We are 82% ahead of last year’s pace,” Clarke said. “That’s a crisis, right now.” 

Referencing past legislation such as the Safe Haven bill council passed last term but was not implemented due to interference at the state level, Clarke said the City had attempted to spur the General Assembly to action to no avail.

“They have refused to do that,” Clarke said. “So we’re doing what we have to do. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and we are desperate.” 

Philadelphia has experienced 32 homicides in the first 23 days of 2020. In 2019, more than 100 people under the age of 18 were the victims of gun violence, including 14 deaths. 

In addition to the resolution authorizing a potential lawsuit against the commonwealth, Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, chair of the Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention, presented a resolution that would authorize the committee to hold hearings to examine the effects of gun violence on victims and co-victims. 

The resolution recognizes the 356 homicides that took place in the city in 2019, which was the highest number of homicides in the last decade, as well as the over 1,000 nonfatal shootings that occurred in the same year. 

Gun violence co-victims, who are friends, family, and community members of victims, also suffer resulting trauma from gun violence, ranging from the financial burden of caring for an injured loved one to post-traumatic stress disorder associated with the violent act. 

“We want to bring together all of the stakeholders who oversee public safety,” Johnson said. “During the hearing, we will have testimony from families and victims of gun violence, and hear about how [we] can support [them].” 

Other Bills and Resolutions 

Councilmember Helen Gym introduced a resolution opposing proposed Trump administration changes to Social Security that would add a review process, potentially costing those with severe disabilities needed benefits. Gym said that 16,000 Philadelphia children could be impacted. 

“Making people jump through unnecessary and oftentimes complicated hoops just to keep benefits that they have already qualified for is not based on science or the economy, it is based on cruelty,” Gym said. 

Councilmember Allan Domb reintroduced his bill that would refund revenue and revise the tax rate for low-income individuals. The bill was introduced in the fall session, but was not signed into law by the mayor before the end of the previous four-year term, effectively vetoing the bill. 

Also reintroduced was Johnson’s Homestead Exemption bill, which would create an exemption of $50,000 for Philadelphia homeowners. The bill was also pocket-vetoed by the mayor in 2019. 

Proposed Charter Changes

Councilmembers Gym and Bobby Henon introduced legislation that would create a citywide Department of Labor and Board of Labor Standards. 

The proposed department would enforce new and existing city labor laws, resolve disputes between workers and employees, and issues fines and other penalties as necessary, according to a press release issued by Gym’s office. 

A major responsibility of the new department would be handling all sexual harassment and discrimination complaints, according to the release. 

Domb proposed a bill that would enact term limits for members of city council, limiting members to four terms. Domb said similar policies had been implemented in eight of the 10 largest cities in the country. 

“Some of the benefits include increased diversity in candidates and creates a more engaging democratic process for voters, moves officials to make to make bold policy decisions and seek solutions, and provides for more public debate,” Domb said. 

Councilmember Derek Green proposed an ordinance that would allow for public funding for political campaigns and revising rules restricting city officials and employees participating in political campaigns. 

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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