Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Massachusetts could become first state to ban menthol cigarettes … San Antonio city council aides may sue the city … Advocates seek pardon for Kansas woman convicted of sex trafficking.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a law this week to place new regulations on commercial trash collection in the city. While the city’s Department of Sanitation collects trash and recycling from residents, the city’s 100,000 commercial businesses are serviced by more than 90 private collection services. The new law divides the city into 20 zones and will create a bidding process for three companies to operate in each zone. The crackdown on private trash collection comes as the city adopts Green New Deal and Vision Zero plans to mitigate climate change and promote pedestrian safety. Since 2010, 28 New Yorkers have been killed by private collection services, with two deaths in the past six months from one company, Sanitation Salvage, which is now out of business. The issue was chronicled last year in a series by ProPublica and the Investigative Fund. De Blasio said that the overhaul of the system will make the city safer. “It's a new day for safety on our streets, whether you're on the truck or biking next to it … It's a new day for New York's Green New Deal, showing that we can create good-paying jobs while drastically reducing pollution and emissions," he said. The intent of the law is to cut the amount of truck traffic in the city by more than half by 2024. Kendall Christiansen, executive director for New Yorkers for Responsible Waste Management, an industry group that opposed the bill, said that the changes will not help with climate change because private trucks make up less than .1% of total trucks operating in the city everyday. Christiansen also argued that the bill would be economically harmful. “Many local businesses would close, and hundreds of workers displaced—both those that work every night on the streets, and those who work in our offices, as salespeople in the field, maintenance shops and recycling facilities,” Christiansen said. Supporters say that the bill is long overdue, because it will also impose new rules to improve safety for pedestrians, bikers, and waste haulers. Councilman Antonio Reynoso, the bill’s sponsor, said that the law’s training requirements for drivers and other employees, and the creation of a citywide Safety Task Force will make a big difference for residents. “If we have restaurants that are feeding people undercooked food and making them sick, they would go out of business. This is why government exists,” he said. [PIX 11; ABC 7 NY; New York Times]
VAPING AND MENTHOL | The Massachusetts legislature passed a bill that would ban all flavored tobacco products and impose a 75% excise tax on nicotine vaping products. If signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker, it also would make the state the first to ban menthol cigarettes. Rep. Danielle Gregoire, a Democrat who sponsored the bill, said that young people often start smoking with flavored products or menthol cigarettes. “While we have laws on the books that are supposed to be making sure that our youth aren’t getting their hands on these tobacco products, we know that they are,” she said. More than 80% of teens in the state who have tried tobacco said that they started with a flavored product, usually menthol. Jonathan Shaer, executive director of the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association, said the ban will drive customers to the black market. “We have basically vacated a $1 billion market. That demand will absolutely find a market. It doesn’t disappear if the state chooses to ban sales,” he said. Harold Wimmer, the president of the American Lung Association, praised the bill. "By ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products including e-cigarettes, Massachusetts is protecting its youth from a lifetime of nicotine addiction and tobacco related illnesses,” he said. [Wall Street Journal; Boston Globe; WCVB]
CITY COUNCIL AIDES | A group of anonymous aides to the San Antonio City Council is considering a lawsuit against the city to resolve what they say are violations of employment law. The anonymous group is represented by attorney Javier Espinoza, who sent a letter to city leaders saying that council aides, who are considered contractors, should instead be city employees, receiving them same pay and benefits as other workers. “Please do not interpret this letter as a threat, to the contrary, none of my clients wish to litigate the misclassification … however, the time has come to recategorize these employees properly and to compensate them in a way that is [commensurate] with their contributions to the City of San Antonio in the same way other employees of the City are compensated,” he wrote. City Attorney Andy Segovia, who is handling the matter for the council, said that they are already working on a solution. “Earlier this year, City Council, working with City staff, started a process to look at Council aide structure, pay, and job classification, so that Council can consider pay increases within the context of a fairly consistent approach to staffing. While we will not discuss the merits of the legal claims, we will continue on the course set out by the Council,” he said. [The Rivard Report; KSAT]
SEX TRAFFICKING PARDON | Advocates in Kansas are seeking a pardon for Hope Zeferjohn, a former foster youth who was forced into sex trafficking at age 16 by her boyfriend. Under threat of violence, she said he made her recruit other girls, which eventually led to her felony conviction. Now 21, Zeferjohn wrote to Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly from her cell in Topeka Correctional Facility asking the governor to pardon her so that she can be released and be removed from the sex offender registry. The Prison Review Board has recommended that Zeferjohn not be pardoned. Kelly has not yet made a decision. “The story of Hope Zeferjohn is a sad one. I will consider every clemency request I receive after a full process of developing facts and with input from those affected, but more importantly our state has a structural criminal justice problem that needs to be addressed,” she said. Vicki Smith, Zeferjohn’s lawyer, said she was disappointed with the recommendation. “Hope is a victim, and Kansas law now recognizes that people who are minors when they are trafficked should be permitted a defense to a charge of human trafficking when they themselves were being trafficked,” she said. In 2018, two bills were introduced that would remove convictions and records for young survivors of the sex trade, but both got stuck in committee. [KCUR; KCUR]
FACIAL RECOGNITION BAN | A bill introduced in the New Jersey State Senate this week would ban all state government agencies from using facial recognition and biometric scanning technology unless the systems meet certain requirements. The bill, introduced by state Sen. Nia Gill, a Democrat, would “specifically prohibit acquisitioning, possessing, accessing, or using a biometric surveillance system, or the information derived from a biometric surveillance system, operated by another entity” unless an agency could “specifically identify those entities permitted to use the biometric surveillance system and for what purpose.” The bill would also create an auditing system for data retention practices of the technologies, and would regularly assess them for accuracy rates by gender, skin color, and age. The Tenth Amendment Center, a privacy rights watchdog organization, released a statement in support of the measure. “While [the bill] would not end the use of facial recognition technology in New Jersey, it would create a layer of oversight and transparency, and would be an improvement over the status quo, which is unlimited use of biometric surveillance with no restrictions,” the group said. [Biometric Update]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.