It was a busy City Council meeting for Chicago aldermen and Mayor Rahm Emanuel Wednesday. The agenda included everything from talk of a plastic bag ban to an ordinance that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. Also, aldermen had a chance to weigh in on the mayor's 2012 budget. Before the meeting, 28 aldermen sent a letter to Emanuel asking him to reconsider some proposals, including cuts to libraries and a steeper city sticker fee for some vehicles.
Aldermen won't vote on the budget until November 16, but a lot of discussion -- and some action -- took place Wednesday.
Head Tax Vote
Since he began campaigning for mayor, Emanuel has made one thing clear: the city's controversial "head tax" should be scrapped. On Wednesday, the City Council voted to do just that. The head tax required all businesses with 50 or more workers to pay $4 per-employee, NBC Chicago reports. Emanuel called the tax a "job killer." The tax will be reduced to $2 per employee on July 1, and eliminated two years later, according to a statement from the mayor's office.
Homeless Shelter Rides
The head of the city's Department of Family and Support Services made headlines Tuesday after suggesting that homeless Chicagoans should take cabs to overnight shelters. The comments came in response to budget cuts by the city, which would significantly reduce DFSS's overnight emergency transport program.
Evelyn Diaz, appointed to her post this spring by Mayor Emanuel, made the controversial comment in response to a question concerning what homeless people in need of emergency shelter between the hours of midnight and 8 a.m. should do -- simply wait until the morning?
"If they can't find another alternative ... Public transportation, cabs,” Diaz responded, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
In a Wednesday statement, Emanuel stressed the importance of keeping people safe during the winter months and announced his plan to set aside $200,000 to reinstate overnight programs for the homeless.
“Keeping Chicagoans safe during the challenging winter months is a priority,” Emanuel said in a statement. “By providing additional funds to fill this service gap we will be able to offer critical transportation to shelter and ensure those most vulnerable find refuge from the harsh temperatures.”
Plastic Bag Ban
Alderman Joe Moreno introduced an ordinance in City Hall Wednesday that would ban large stores from using plastic bags. Moreno (1st) has discussed this plan previously, but it is unclear whether he has the full support of the Council just yet.
"They're terrible for our Streets and Sanitation workers," Moreno said in a press conference after the meeting, NBC Chicago reports. "You talk to any worker, when they clean out a sewer, they're pulling dozens of these bags out. The City Council has made some braod attempts to get rid of these in the past, but quite frankly it's time to get rid of them for good."
The ban would target retailers occupying stores larger than 5,000-square-feet in city limits.
As previously reported, Alderman Danny Solis (25th) introduced his ordinance to the City Council Wednesday that would allow police to ticket people who are caught with small amounts of marijuana. Not only do many Council members support this plan, but Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle also wants the county to adopt this model.
According to the Sun-Times, aldermen introduced their plan after releasing "ward-by-ward statistics that show minorities bear the brunt of marijuana arrests."
Emanuel was reluctant to immediately support the measure, and he had no intention of rushing into a vote on the matter.
“If you look at other cities that have done something like this, they have also created their own set of problems on the criminal side," Emanuel said, according to the Sun-Times. "… If I put my support, which I’m not doing yet — I want to look at it from both sides and be thoughtful. Other cities that have done this have then had to go back and do corrections.”
Read more about the decriminalization plan here.
Other Ordinances Introduced
What else happened during Wednesday's City Council meeting? Mayor Emanuel introduced an ordinance that would ease inspections on "low-risk" food establishments in the city, which include restaurants that primarily sell beverages or pre-packaged foods. Sadly, food trucks are still being inspected to death. The Council slightly revised the Vacant Buildings Ordinance, approved the sale of city-owned land for an entry point to the planned Bloomingdale Park & Trail in Logan Square and proposed using TIF money to fund improvements at three schools.
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