Tuesday, January 27, 2015

You call that living?

City Council has a lot of terrible legislation pending before it in the next few weeks.  Council members Guidry and Head are sponsoring ordinances designed to regulate (they say).. but really.. authorize and sanction Uber and Airbnb in Orleans Parish. Not to mention, also, the noise ordinance is on the way back.  The city has already signaled they may want it to be back with teeth.   More on all of that later.. but I'm convinced this is by far the most right wing city government I've seen in operation during my adult life, at least. 

The good news is, it ain't all bad.

Yesterday District D Council member Jared Brossett introduced an ordinance that would require all contractors doing business with the city to pay a minimum wage of $10.10. 
Brossett, who introduced the ordinance last week, bills it as a "living wage" proposal similar to others approved in progressive cities around the country.

"I am a firm believer that economic opportunity is one the cornerstones of a thriving city," Brossett said Monday (Jan. 26). "Sadly, too many of our citizens don't have that opportunity. A job by itself is not the type of opportunity we need. A good-paying job is what our people need. And if your company wants to do business with the city, we want them to pay you a living wage."
Nevermind that $10.10 is hardly what we could call a "living wage." If you think people can or should be able to live on that, well, as President Obama said, last week, "You try it."

Nevermind, also, that Brossett's proposal conflicts with (an admittedly egregious) 1997 state law (sponsored by our friends David Vitter and Steve Scalise, btw) which specifically prohibits municipalities from passing this kind of ordinance.  Of course such a law deserves a good challenge every now and then.  The last attempt at this was rejected by the State Supreme Court, unfortunately.  Lamar has all of the details here.

My point, though, is that Brossett's proposal, while not exactly a bad idea, is kind of a waste of time and attention because 1) the proposed wage is insufficient to meet any reasonable definition of a "living wage," and 2) it effectively accomplishes nothing baring either a reversal of a Supreme Court decision or a new constitutional amendment.  It makes for a nice headline, of course, but carries little purpose else.

So, like I said, it ain't all bad.. but it ain't all great either.

Last week's very reasonable smoking ordinance is another interesting case. I know some people are.. um... put out by it.. but the law they ended up passing is going to do a lot of good for a lot of people working in service industry jobs.  (And, yes, I'm looking forward to never again coming home smelling like smoke.) Still, it's worth paying attention to the Machivellian  process by which the smoking ban made its way through passage.

The original draft of Council Member Cantrell's ordinance was intentionally bloated with draconian overreach. The ordinance, as written, would have pushed smokers, not only out of the bar, but at least 25 feet away from the front door of the building before they could light up.  This would have caused concerns about negative effect on the surrounding neighborhoods.

The ordinance, as written, would have banned the indoor use of electronic cigarettes.  This might actually be a good idea but it was pretty difficult to justify given what we currently know abut the effects of second-hand vape.

The vaping provision was so ridiculous, in fact, that it dominated much of the public debate on the ordinance. Of course, this was always going to be a bit of a circus. Bar owners and casino managers were certain to complain the moment the ban was conceived.  Interesting, though, that throwing the oddball vapists in with their lot caused their arguments to appear more risible than they otherwise might have. Sort of a subtraction by addition.  I can't help but wonder whether this was calculated.

The ordinance, as written, also included some absurdly severe enforcement provisions which, like all of the others above, had to be amended out.
Yesterday, at-large councilman Jason Williams introduced an amendment to remove NOPD as an enforcement agency. That amendment was approved. NOPD and the still-in-progress NOLA Patrol will not carry out enforcement of the ordinance. District E Councilman James Gray also objected to a community service requirement for people unable to pay the fine. That amendment also was approved. Rather than mandate seven hours of community service to anyone unable to pay the fine, it will now be left to a judge's discretion.

Enforcement of the ordinance is largely incumbent upon businesses to remind smokers to step outside. Bar owners and managers, under the ordinance, must ask smoking patrons to put out their cigarette.

Williams said removing the NOPD from the picture "makes sure we don’t overburden or add an additional burden on the NOPD for a smoke-free New Orleans."

"It would be poor judgement to take police officers off the street for even a minute (to address smoking)," he said."

"It’s not a great thing if it becomes a tool of oppression for some people in this city," Gray added, suggesting that the ordinance could become an excuse to "stop young black men in the street" simply for smoking.
Noble sentiments from Gray and from Williams, of course.  Isn't it neat the way they got to step in and be heroes at the last minute there? Gray, Williams, and Nadine Ramsey got to make a big show of cutting all the nasty parts out of Cantrell's ordinance.  The opposition got to shout into the void. And, of course, the ordinance passed. Everybody wins!

You'd almost think the whole process was a sham and everything was planned out well in advance... you know.. if you thought that's how this stuff worked, anyway.

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