The city’s legislative body convened for the first time since life changed in New York, nearly two months after the coronavirus pandemic shut down most of the city. It was a City Council stated meeting in the time of coronavirus.
The council dialed into this virtual meeting on Wednesday, taking up the business of introducing and voting on bills away from the council chambers, a first in the council's 81-year history.
"Today will look at lot different than past stateds, but our objective is the same," City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in his opening remarks.
So some council members joined from home, others joined from their office, and nearly all of them took a pause to acknowledge the city’s ongoing health crisis, thank first responders and health care workers. and offer some words of encouragement.
Then, to the business at hand. Lawmakers introduced a package of 11 bills aimed at helping workers, tenants and small businesses struggling as a result of the ongoing crisis.
Councilman Keith Powers said the council is looking into ways to help New Yorkers struggling with rent.
"Providing rental assistance, finding creative ways to help people pay the next month’s rent, it means providing for our small businesses who really need our help right now," he said.
The package also includes a bill to extend the time impacted tenants have to pay their rent and pay back some debts. There is also a proposal to prohibit firings of essential workers and to extend paid sick leave to gig employees.
Another set of bills calls on the city to create more street space for pedestrians and cyclists to help New Yorkers keep up with social distancing guidelines. The proposal would open 75 miles of city streets, a plan which Mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed little support for.
Councilwoman Carlina Rivera said the city needs to create more space for people to safely spend time outside and commute if needed.
"Our open streets plan will increase space for essential workers to commute safely. It will supplement our already crowded parks, which will only become more cramped this summer," she said.
And although they’re not meeting at City Hall, Johnson said he plans aggressive negotiations on the city budget, which is due at the end of June. De Blasio has spoken about the budget in grave terms, saying he has no choice but to make significant cuts. But Johnson threw cold water on some of de Blasio's budget cuts, including a slashing of the summer youth employment program.
"These were his proposed cuts. We still have to have our executive budget hearings, we still have to go through negotiations," Johnson said. "Is there a modified way to do this? It is not realistic to think that if the pools are closed, the beaches are closed, the schools are closed, what are young people going to do?"
The proposed legislation is expected to be heard virtually in the coming weeks. Budget hearings are also scheduled to be held in a virtual setting in the coming days.