Friday, May 26, 2017

Boston City Council Looks At Community Preservation, Pregnant Workers, Chamber Accessibility & More

City Council President Michelle Wu publishes notes from Boston City Council meetings. The Boston City Council considered the following items and many more during their May Council meetings:

Community Preservation Committee: Councilor Flaherty reported back on May 15th's working session on the creation of the Community Preservation Committee. State law requires that after communities opt in to the CPA, the local legislative body passes an ordinance to define the composition and procedures of the committee that will make recommendations on how to allocate CPA funds. This ordinance proposes a committee of 5 members appointed by the Mayor (heads of various agencies/commissions that oversee affordable housing, parks and open space, and historic preservation as statutorily defined) and 4 appointed by the City Council, serving staggered 3 year terms. The group would be responsible for recommending allocations of expenditures from the Community Preservation Fund, which must be appropriated by vote of the City Council. CPA projects must be related to the acquisition, creation, and preservation of open space, historic preservation, and affordable housing.
At the working session, a revised draft that included more specific language on transparency, committee member expertise, and the selection process was reviewed. The Yes for a Better Boston (YBB) Coalition which had led the community mobilization efforts pushing for the ballot initiative had requested that all four Council appointments should come from a list of 12 people that YBB would provide. The Administration also drafted an ordinance that would have the Mayor appoint these seats – 1 from a list created by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, and 3 from a list of 9 from YBB. Councilors expressed concern about allocating seats to specific organizations, given that ordinances will be on the books for years to come and the composition and leadership of organizations can change. Our proposal is for the Council to create a subcommittee to oversee the selection process (through an open application portal on the City website that could include support letters from organizations) and hear recommendations from the CPA Committee on allocation. Councilor Flaherty also mentioned that there was some discussion on whether the Council needed to formalize the committee structure by June 1st in order for the City to begin collecting and potentially disbursing the funds in this fiscal year; if that is the case, we would have to vote on the ordinance at next week’s meeting. The matter remains in the Committee on Government Operations.

Temporary Protected Status for Haitian Nationals: The Council voted to adopt President Wu's resolution filed in partnership with Councilors Jackson, McCarthy, and Zakim to urge the extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian nationals. TPS is an emergency immigration status given when people are temporarily unable to safely return to their home country because of ongoing armed conflict, an environmental disaster, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions. The TPS designation allows eligible Haitian nationals to temporarily continue living and working in the United States, and it was granted to Haitian nationals who were in the US as of January 12, 2010, the date of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. The designation has been renewed multiple times, and the latest extension expires July 22, 2017, with a decision due by May 23rd to leave enough time for a 60-day notice period. Legally, the decision should only be based on current conditions in Haiti, and whether people could safely return. We know that Haiti has not yet recovered from the 2010 earthquake and the nation suffers from economic and political crises, rampant Zika and Chikungunya, the effects of a devastating cholera epidemic, and the destructive effects of Hurricane Matthew. However, there have been recent reports that the Trump administration has requested questionable data regarding TPS beneficiaries’ involvement with the criminal justice system and public benefits system, suggesting that they are looking to build a misleading narrative. Several Councilors rose to support extending TPS for Haitian nationals, citing the strong and thriving Haitian American community in the Greater Boston region, which makes up the country’s third-largest Haitian population; nearly 1 out of 10 Haitians living in this area have TPS. May is Haitian Heritage Month, and the City of Boston is proud to be the first city in the nation to formally celebrate Haitian Heritage Month.

Council Chamber Accessibility Project: President Wu gave a brief update on the Council Chamber accessibility project, which is proceeding on schedule for renovations this summer beginning in early July and lasting until September. Plans are being finalized to use Faneuil Hall for those summer meetings during construction, except that the space is booked already for the dates of our last two meetings in September, so those dates dates may need to be adjusted or a different location found. As a reminder, the project will lift the Council floor and make our space fully accessible for those with mobility challenges and/or using wheelchairs. Currently, the Council floor is three steps down from the main floor, and the only way down is from a ramp that requires someone in a wheelchair to go all the way around to the back entrance for access. The new plans will mean that no one will have to go around to the back to access the Council floor, and that the Councilors’ entrance and President’s podium will be fully accessible. It will also change a row of public seating to provide wheelchair-accessible seating (currently nonexistent). The improvements will also include sound treatments on some of the walls to help attendees hear better, LED lights that will save energy and provide adequate lighting on one side of the Chamber that is currently dark, and new carpeting in the form of carpet tiles that are easier to clean and overall more cost-effective to maintain.

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: The Council voted to pass Councilor Pressley’s resolution supporting the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act proposed at the state level, which would protect women needing reasonable accommodations during and after pregnancy. The City of Boston already has these protections in place. Councilor Campbell and I, both expecting this summer, were especially eager to support!

Upcoming Hearings/Working Sessions (Watch Live)
  • Wednesday, 5/31 at 2:00PM, Fenway Cultural District (Arts & Culture) [Offsite at the Museum of Fine Arts Remis Auditorium]
For complete notes on Boston City Council meetings, visit MichelleForBoston.com or sign up to receive these notes automatically each week by email. 

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