LEFTY LAWS UNLEASHED

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New York may not top the nation’s list of liberal cities, but the Big Apple likely blows most of its peers away when it comes to lefty legislation. Last week the Council enacted several laws aimed at bettering the lives of lower-income New Yorkers. The Health Care Security Act, which will force grocery stores to provide health insurance to their workers, is landmark legislation; only a handful of other municipalities nationwide have enacted similar requirements. Passed with substantial support from the grocery industry itself—where employers that provide insurance are frequently undercut by those that don’t—the law will bring health care to an estimated 6,000 uninsured New Yorkers and their families, and ensure it for 21,000 more. The mayor is expected to veto the bill. Though the Council will easily rack up enough votes for an override, the law could end up mired in litigation, if past squabbles are any indication. Wednesday also saw the Council override mayoral vetoes of the Tenant Empowerment Act and a package of laws intended to ease the application process for food stamps. The Tenant Empowerment Act gives tenants of subsidized housing, such as those in expiring Mitchell-Lama or Section 8 buildings, first dibs on purchasing their building if the owner decides to sell. The strongest of its kind in the country, the law’s passage marked a coup for housing advocates, many of whom broke into whoops and hollers when the vote was finally called. Lastly, the food stamp package will force the city to take applications via fax and online, make applications available at food pantries and shelters, and let applicants forego in-person interviews in cases of hardship. That legislation largely reinforces formal policies on the books at the city welfare agency, and will serve to foster increased enrollment in the federal program. (T. McMillan) [08/22/05]