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The City Council, as well as its northeast Queens members, fared poorly in a recent review of the legislative body’s record on human rights over the past year.
The Urban Justice Center’s 2011 Human Rights Report Card doled out a grade of “C-” to Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) and “C” to Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone). Councilman Peter Koo (R-Flushing) received a grade of “C-” and Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) received a grade of “D+.”
The grades were calculated based on each member’s votes and sponsorship of legislation as well as returning a questionnaire. The report identified 72 pieces of human rights legislation introduced in the past year that focused on housing, workers’, disability and voting rights, as well as issues concerning criminal and juvenile justice, health and government accountability.
Weprin voted in favor of all eight bills that came to a vote and returned his questionnaire, but he only sponsored five pieces of legislation, which led to his poor grade.
“It’s a policy I had up in Albany that I sign on to very few bills that aren’t mine,” he said. “What does it mean if you’re on a bill? [The report didn’t] ask my opinion — it was just based on whether you’re signed on.”
“Just because I’m not a sponsor doesn’t mean I don’t support them. I’m willing to bet I would support them if they came to the floor,” he said.
Halloran sponsored 17 pieces of legislation and voted against one that requires pregnancy centers to disclose the types of reproductive health services provided on-site and creates protections for client’s health and personal information. He did not return his questionnaire.
A spokesman for Halloran said the councilman opposed the bill in part because of its “serious infringements on free speech.”
At the time the bill was being considered, Halloran released the following statement: “A whopping 41 percent of viable pregnancies in New York City end in abortions. No matter where you stand on this issue, that’s too many. Crisis pregnancy centers are working to provide abortion alternatives to lower this number and remind the vulnerable pregnant women of our city that they do, indeed, have a choice. They deserve to be commended for their work, not targeted by biased laws.”
While the report assigned each Council member a grade, its primary criticism was of the political power of the speaker and the Council’s failure to challenge that power. Of the 72 bills introduced, only eight were brought to a vote, and the report implied this was because Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) did not support them.
A spokesman for the speaker said the report card did not reflect an accurate picture of her human rights advocacy or achievements.
“Speaker Quinn is proud of the human rights legislation passed under her leadership, including a law that ended unjust deportations from Rikers Island, another that requires the Police Department and the Department of Education to release data related to suspensions and police activity in schools, and a third bill that strengthens religious freedoms for those engaging in religious observances in the workplace, just to name a few,” he said.
Weprin said many bills do not come to a vote unless they have a consensus in the Council and called the criticism of Quinn’s record on human rights weak.
“She’s been very good on human rights,” he said. “You can criticize her on term limits, but not on human rights.”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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