By Gina Martinez
Queens lawmakers and small business owners gathered Tuesday at Flushing Town Hall to introduce a new bill aimed at protecting restaurants from unfair inspection practices.
State Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing), state Sen. Jose Peralta (D- East Elmhurst), Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Howard Beach) and Assemblyman Clyde Vanel (D- Queens Village) said the bill would help lessen the amount of burdensome fines levied on small businesses that can not handle them.
The bill is intended to reform the New York restaurant health investigation system, according to Kim. As a teenager Kim saw his parent’s grocery store go bankrupt and close after suffering from what he termed overregulation, excessive fining and high rents.
“My parents worked seven days a week,” he said. “Every dollar they had was for their small business and even with that it wasn’t enough. That is not good enough for this city. Our American Dream for so many immigrants is based on the promise that if you follow the rules and work hard enough, you will have an equal chance to succeed. We’re losing that promise due to ridiculous overregulation and sometimes the overzealous inspectors and fines that these mom-and-pop stores go through everyday.”
According to Kim, the bill, titled “The Restaurant Owner Whistle Blower Protection Act,”will establish an independent oversight body to receive complaints about health inspectors. Complaint intake will create a hotline and website in multiple languages, including Arabic, Bengali, and Chinese. Kim said the if the bill passes, the city must provide an annual summary report on total number of independent complaints, what type of complaints and investigative findings. Finally, restaurants owners will be given three opportunities to deny the inspections on sitet and request a new inspector. Every time the restaurant owner will pay a fee, $75 for the first denial, $150 for the second denial and $250 for the final denial.
“Some inspectors are simply on a power trip and they act unprofessionally,” Kim said. “They already have a biased feeling going into the restaurant and they are in there purposely looking for reasons to shut down the restaurant and that’s not fair. Sometimes they come in at the busiest hours, not keeping their schedule, and they’ll sit there for three, four hours, disrupting the flow of business to just bully the restaurant owner.”
Co-sponsor Peralta said this legislation will save restaurants from being taken advantage of by abusive inspectors.
“I represent a big part of Roosevelt Avenue where people can walk up and down the avenue and taste the different eclectic dishes from all over the world,” he said. “Unfortunately, what happens is that from time to time you get these overzealous inspectors that walk in and will try to shut down a business. These restaurants are the economic engines of our neighborhoods. When an inspector comes in and tries to shut a restaurant down because they happen to be bad apples, it becomes a problem.”
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart