By Alexander Dworkowitz
An organization representing Internet cafes in the city and Long Island has thrown its support behind City Councilman John Liu's (D-Flushing) bill aimed at restricting teenagers' truancy at the establishments.
Jong Tae Park, vice president of the New York Internet Cafe Owners Association, voiced his support for the legislation at a news conference at Liu's office last Thursday.
“I believe this is a bill to protect our minors,” Park said through a translator. He owns an Internet cafe at 61-02 Springfield Blvd. in Bayside.
Liu's legislation, which he introduced in the City Council last month, calls for regulations of minors' visits to Internet cafes.
If passed, the law would forbid minors from visiting the cafes during school hours. The legislation makes an exception for high school graduates, those with an equivalency degree, students with written permission from their guardian and those accompanied by their guardian.
Under the bill, owners of Internet cafes can be fined $150 to $300 for allowing youths under 18 into their establishment during school hours.
The number of Internet cafes across Queens and the rest of the city has exploded in the last few years. As the cafes become more and more popular, they have become destinations for truants, Liu said.
“We're working to insure our schoolchildren are in fact in school,” Liu said. “We have a responsibility to keep the kids in school.”
At the news conference, Park said all 17 members of his organization, who hail from Flushing, Bayside, Manhattan, and Long Island and are all Korean American, support the bill. The members already turn away minors during school hours, and they feared they were losing business to their competitors who were not so vigilant, he said.
Christine Colligan, a jewelry designer and former PTA president of JHS 187, said children of recent immigrants often make the Internet cafes their second home due to a generation gap with their parents.
“Sometimes they get lonely. They need a place to go and hang out,” she said.
For three years Colligan has pushed for restrictions at the cafes and she said she supported Liu's bill.
“The children are our future. If we lose them, we're not going to have a bright future,” she said.
One reporter asked how Liu's bill would handle tourists who visited the city, many of whom come from other countries and would not bring permission slips for Internet cafes.
Liu said the legislation could be reworked.
“Maybe we can put in a special paragraph that talks about out-of- town visitors,” he said.
Some teenagers were not happy about the bill.
At about noon last Thursday, four teens sat in the graffiti-covered stairwell of Cyberland at 137-74 Northern Blvd., smoking cigarettes after spending hours in the second-floor cafe.
The cafe is across the street from Flushing High School, which two of the teenagers said they attended.
The teenagers did not hesitate to reveal they were cutting class.
“I think if we're not here, we'll be doing worse things,” one of them said.
While many teenagers come to play games, others visit Cyberland to hack into people's AOL accounts and steal their identities, the four said.
As they smoked, Song Kim, the manager of Cyberland, entered the stairwell and told the teenagers to go outside.
Kim said he liked the idea of the bill.
“I don't want them to hang around here during school hours. They have to go study,” he said.
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.