By Joe Anuta
Days before the City Council was set to weigh in on a pair of controversial bills that would bring new oversight to the NYPD this week, a group of Queens lawmakers opposed the use of a rare legislative procedure that brought the items to the floor.
The Council Monday overwhelmingly passed a motion to discharge, which released the two bills — one that would create an inspector general for the Police Department and another that would allow New Yorkers to sue the department over allegations of racial profiling — from the Committee on Public Safety against the wishes of its chairman, City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria).
The move brought the bills up for a vote by the entire body, which was expected to take place Wednesday night.
Along with Vallone, City Councilmen Peter Koo (D-Flushing), James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) and Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) voted against using the procedure. The other opponents were City Councilmen Lew Fidler (D-Brooklyn), Michael Nelson (D-Brooklyn) James Oddo (R-Staten Island) and Vincent Ignizio (R-Staten Island).
The remaining 43 members of the Council voted for it, although there was discussion about how the motion may influence future legislation.
“As far as I know, this is the first time this has happened in the modern history of the City Council,” Vallone said. “This absolutely sets a precedent. If you’re going to allow the worst bill in the history of the City Council to go around the committee chair, then you have no argument for stopping any other bill from moving forward.”
Vallone characterized the racial profiling bill as legislating an increase in crime.
Gennaro’s office declined to comment on his vote, but Ulrich and Koo said regardless of the bills’ merit, the motion to discharge will open the doors for other pieces of legislation to bypass committees, which typically vet bills so the body as a whole does not have to consider every proposal.
“Why bother to have committees then? Why have a committee process? Why have hearings? Why have debate when you could just put it on the floor?” Ulrich said at the hearing. “The rules need to be changed.”
The bills’ sponsor, in this case City Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn), needed seven council members to sign a petition in order to bypass Vallone.
Quinn said she allowed the motion to discharge because it had widespread support in the Council, even though she does not support the racial profiling bill.
According to Ulrich, other lawmakers will likely vote against the actual legislation even though they supported the discharge.
“They are agreeing with [Vallone] that it’s a bad bill, but circumventing his right to withhold it from the council vote,” said one council insider.
City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) voted in favor of the procedure, but with reservations.
“I’m going to vote aye, but I do not want to set a precedent on any other bills that are coming forth,” she said.
Both proposals have widespread support. Even though Queens lawmakers made up the bulk of the opposition, 11 other members of the borough’s delegation voted for the motion.
It is unclear as of press time if supporters had enough votes to override a mayoral veto.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.