Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Wednesday June 26th, 2013, 5:45pm

Emanuel Introduces Assault Weapons Ban, Student Safety Measure At Busy Council Meeting

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced an ordinance at Wednesday’s city council meeting that looks to ban the import, sale, transfer and possession of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in the city.

The move comes in response to the concealed carry legislation the Illinois General Assembly passed last month that is currently awaiting action from Gov. Pat Quinn.

State lawmakers are required to come up with new legislation by a July 9 deadline following a federal court ruling back in December that struck down Illinois’ concealed carry ban. The deadline was extended from June 9 to July 9 to give Gov. Quinn more time to consider the bill once it passed.

Under the proposed statewide concealed carry legislation, HB 183, sponsored by State Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), Illinois municipalities will have 10 days after the bill is signed to pass a new or updated assault weapons measure.

The Chicago Police Department is making a “strong effort” to bring down gun-related crimes and violence in the city in part by putting more police on the streets and getting “kids, guns and drugs” off of them, Emanuel said in remarks after the meeting.

“It is essential that we make sure we do everything to bring safety to all our communities and neighborhoods throughout the city,” Emanuel said. “The assault weapon ban, and making sure it’s comprehensive, is part of that overall strategy — bringing safety throughout our streets.”

The proposed ordinance looks to ban any semiautomatic rifle or handgun that can accept a detachable magazine and has at least one military feature, such as pistol grips and telescoping stocks, among others.

Shotguns that allow for a detachable magazine, have at least one military feature or a fixed capacity of more than five rounds would also be banned under the ordinance.

Overall, any weapon with a fixed magazine of more than 15 rounds would not be allowed.

In other safety-related news, Emanuel and a handful of aldermen also introduced a proposal today that would increase penalties for gun offenses near schools and parks, on buses and along Safe Passage routes.

The ordinance looks to create “student safety zones” within 1,000 feet of a school.

Under the measure, parks that are within 1,000 feet of a school would also be in a safety zone. School Buses are also included.

The school and park zones would be active on school days from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. If school programs run after 7 p.m., the zones would be in place until an hour after the activities end.

During those same hours, Safe Passage routes, aimed to keep kids safe as they travel to and from school, would also have active zones.

Anyone convicted of having a gun, ammunition or other “dangerous weapons” in a zone would see stiff penalties under the proposal.

The first offense would come with a $1,000 to $5,000 fine and mandatory 30-day jail time, with a possible six-month sentence.

A two-time offender would see a $5,000 to $15,000 fine in addition to at least 90 days in jail, with a possible six-month sentence. Three-time offenders would be dealt a $10,000 to $20,000 fine and a mandatory six-month jail sentence.

Emanuel called the overall measure another tool in the “safety kit for children.”

“It sends a clear, deterrent message that there will be stiffer penalties as it relates to our children and any areas in or related to their schools, because ultimately the goal is that when our children are making their way to school or on their way home, they should be thinking about their studies not their safety,” Emanuel said.

Over the past several months, Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials have come under fire from parents, education activists and others, who fear students impacted by the recent round of school actions will have to trek across gang lines and encounter other dangers when traveling to their designated welcoming school next year.

In additional efforts to quell those concerns, the Chicago Board of Education also on Wednesday approved a $7.7 million expansion of the Safe Passage program for next academic year that will cover the 51 schools taking in students from the 49 shuttered schoolhouses.

Alds. Joe Moreno (1st), Jo Ann Thompson (16th), Latasha Thomas (17th), Roberto Maldonado (26th) and Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) helped introduce the safety zone measure.

Other Highlights From The Meeting

The city council approved up to $400,000 in tax increment financing (TIF) dollars to help the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority pay for streetscape improvements on a one-block stretch of Cermak Road from Prairie Avenue to Calumet Avenue.

The TIF money will help pay for new trees, parkways and sidewalks, among other improvements, near the future sites of a planned $400 million hotel at Cermak Road and Indiana Avenue and a nearby DePaul University basketball arena.

The streetscaping is part of the overall plan to turn the area near McCormick Place into an entertainment district.

TIF activists and other concerned Chicago taxpayers have ripped into the overall project, specifically calling the proposed DePaul arena a ‘monstrosity.’

That’s because $33.5 million in TIF money will be set aside to help pay for the arena, while another $21.5 million in TIF money is slated to be allocated for the purchase of land for the hotel. Activists say the TIF money should instead be spent on public education.

Disability Rights

It will soon be easier for people with disabilities to catch a wheelchair-accessible taxicab in Chicago.

The city council approved an operator for a new, high-tech centralized dispatch system for wheelchair-accessible taxis.

Flash Cab currently manages the centralized dispatch system using just a central telephone number. The new system will make use of GPS and other new forms of technology.

Under the new contract, Open Doors Organization, a disability advocacy non-profit organization based in Chicago, would be tasked with implementing and running the system, which will help prevent taxi no-shows and speed up arrival times. The new centralized dispatch system is expected to be operational by the end of summer.

The upgraded system will include “SnagTechnology” created by the Chicago-based technology company Driven Solutions, LLC.

The “SnagTechnology” lets passengers directly communicate with drivers to verify pickup times and locations. Passengers can also download an app that will show wheelchair-accessible taxi locations while in route and nearby. The app also lets riders choose what kind of vehicle they prefer, such as a van or a hybrid, among other options.

A taxi can also be scheduled up to two days in advance.

To ensure cabs show up, fare requests placed more than 24 hours in advance will be assigned to a primary driver. A backup driver will also be in place should the first driver neglect the fare.

Passengers will also receive notifications prior to their scheduled rides.

Open Doors Organization plans to install 100 iPads in area hospitals and medical and dialysis centers, among other places, by October 31 for people to use to schedule a ride.

Under the contract, Open Doors Organization can charge medallion holders of wheelchair accessible taxis up to $215 per month to take part in the dispatch system. The city will see 5 percent of the gross revenue that Open Doors Organization takes in from the participating medallion holders.

In comparison, medallion licensees have been paying $275 per month to Flash Cab, and the city has not seen a share of the revenue.

“With our new taxi ordinance in place, we’ve doubled the number of WAVs [Wheelchair accessible vehicles] in the taxicab fleet operating in the city,” Emanuel said in a statement. “This proposal for a new, 21st century WAV dispatch system is the next step to improving the quality of service by accessible taxis for Chicagoans.”

Aldermen Form Asian American Caucus

Prior to the council meeting, Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) and other aldermen announced the creation of the Chicago City Council Asian American Caucus today.

The caucus will advocate on behalf of the Asian community, with a particular focus on increasing language access.

Various chambers of commerce, advocacy organizations and small business owners that represent and service Chicago’s Asian community stood in solidarity Wednesday with the 11 aldermen who have joined the caucus.

“As the first Asian American elected to city council, I get the special privilege of convening the conversation, but really, this is formalizing a lot of the work that these guys have been doing for years, and in many cases decades,” Pawar said before the council meeting.

Pawar and the other caucus members pledged to work in partnership with the city of Chicago's Office of New Americans to work on a language-access ordinance.

About one third of Chicagoans speak a language other than English at home, said Adolfo Hernandez, director of the Office of New Americans.

“The city’s got to figure out ways to make sure that we have culturally competent services, but also address the language gaps,” Pawar said.

Such an ordinance, for example, would help ensure that language barriers do not exist when a city inspector visits a business.

“The Asians in my community are often the small business owners and entrepreneurs, and we want to do everything that we can to make life easier for them within the city of Chicago,” said Asian American caucus member Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th).

Asian Americans comprise 5 percent of Chicago’s total population, Hernandez said.

“They’re incredibly entrepreneurial. They’re active. They want to open up businesses,” he said. “When the Asian community thrives, our city as a whole thrives.”

Language access will also likely be an issue once open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act of 2010 starts this October, Pawar added.

Ald. Danny Solis (25th), also on the caucus, said he is also optimistic that Congress will pass federal immigration reform this year. If so, the city of Chicago and the state will likely be busy helping immigrants apply for legal status.

“I think that this caucus is going to be very helpful in that and also could be a role model, not only for the rest of the state but for the rest of the country,” Solis said.

Alds. James Balcer (11th), Dick Mell (33rd), Patrick O'Connor (40th), Brendan Reilly (42nd), James Cappleman (46th), Harry Osterman (48th), Joe Moore (49th) and Debra Silverstein (50th) are also on the caucus.

Aldermen, Better Government Association Renews Push For Privatization Transparency Ordinance

Seven months ago, Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) introduced the Privatization Transparency and Accountability Ordinance. And 31 aldermen have signed on as co-sponsors since that time.

The ordinance would require the city to hold a hearing and conduct a cost-effectiveness study before any privatization deal involving assets or services is put up for a full city council vote, among other transparency provisions.

But the ordinance is still stuck in the rules committee and has not had an open hearing before the council.

Sawyer, a handful of aldermen, the Better Government Association, and the Chicago Federation of Labor, among other groups, called on Emanuel and Ald. Mell, who heads the rules committee, to help pass the ordinance.

“We thought it was a simple, sensible idea that everybody would get around, but here we are seven months later, and we still cannot get this initiative out of the rules committee. I think that’s wrong,” Sawyer said.

Andy Shaw, president and CEO of the Better Government Association, said a majority of the city council members support the ordinance. He called it “reprehensible” that the measure has been tied up in committee.

“This ordinance is so reasonable and so strong, it probably would have prevented the single biggest privatization abomination in Chicago history – the parking meter deal that we’re still suffering from today,” Shaw said.

He urged Emanuel and Mell to “call it up,” adding that not doing so “flies in the face” of the mayor’s commitment to transparency and accountability.

“He should be using his considerable influence over the city council to get this out of the rules committee and in front of the entire council,” Shaw said.

Image: AP/Charles Rex Arbogast

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