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Inquirer Daily News

Archive: April, 2009

POSTED: Thursday, April 16, 2009, 10:56 AM

Council just passed 17-0 a law to ban the use of cell phones by drivers in the city. Councilman Bill Greenlee -- one of the bill's sponsors -- called it a "positive definitive step" toward improving public safety.

Councilmen Bill Green and Frank Rizzo also sponsored the measure, which would require drivers to use a "hand-free" device and would prohibit the sending of e-mails and text messages while driving. Beyond cars, it also applies to people using scooters, bikes, roller skates and skateboards.

The law is likely to be quickly challenged in court, since PennDOT and an attorney who helped overturn a similar law in Bucks County have said the legislation conflicts with the state motor-vehicle code.

POSTED: Thursday, April 16, 2009, 10:42 AM

City Council just took their first step towards considering a wage tax hike to help close the city budget gap.

Council just approved a resolution asking the finance director to verify whether city tax collections have dropped by more than 2 percent. Under state gaming law, that condition would allow the city to raise the wage tax.

During the initial vote, Council President Anna Verna seemed to miss that Council members Jim Kenney and Frank DiCicco voted against the measure. She called the vote again and they both emphatically voted no again. All other members supported the resolution.

POSTED: Thursday, April 16, 2009, 7:40 AM

The First Judicial District is cutting back the number of people called for jury duty each week to save money.

Gov. Rendell is criticized by the Board of Ethics for using a little known political action committee to quietly funnel money into the 2007 elections.

A mayoral task force on ethics reforms wants to see tougher campaign finance regulations.

POSTED: Thursday, April 16, 2009, 7:00 AM
Could this soon lead to a city ticket?

A proposed ban on the use of cell phones by drivers in Philadelphia, proposed by City Councilmen Bill Green, Bill Greenlee and Frank Rizzo, is scheduled to come up this morning for a final vote.  It is likely to be quickly challenged in court, since PennDOT and an attorney who helped overturn a similar law in Bucks County have said the legislation conflicts with the state motor-vehicle code.

City Council, while considering the legislation last month, heard from the chief legal adviser for Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who urged Council members to send a message to Harrisburg by approving the measure even if it conflicts with the state code.  The law would require drivers to use a "hand-free" device and would prohibit the sending of e-mails and text messages while driving.  Beyond cars, it also applies to people using scooters, bikes, roller skates and skateboards.

Philip J. Berg, an attorney who successfully overturned a similar law in Hilltown Township, Bucks County, in 2000 has vowed to represent for free anyone cited if the Philadelphia law is passed.

POSTED: Wednesday, April 15, 2009, 3:57 PM

City Councilman Frank DiCicco plans to introduce legislation tomorrow morning to rezone the former Strawbridge & Clothier department store at 8th and Market streets as a "commercial entertainment district," the first step in allowing Foxwoods to open a casino there.  DiCicco, speaking with Mayor Nutter and Foxwoods officials this afternoon in City Hall said he believed that location would have less impact on surrounding neighborhoods than the casino investors' first two choices, Columbus Boulevard and Reed Street in South Philly and the Gallery at 11th and Market streets.

That did not seem to satisfy about 25 anti-casino activists, mostly from nearby Chinatown, who waved signs and banners during the announcement.  DiCicco pointed out that most of those activists were not involved in the casino debate until Foxwoods, approved by the state for South Philly in December 2006, declared last fall that it was looking to relocate to Market Street.  The casino, if it wins approval for the move from the state Gaming Control Board, would open early next year on the second and third floors of the former department store, above what the landlord for the building called first-floor "signature restaurants and nice retail."

DiCicco said a public hearing on the zoning legislation will be held in Council on May 7.  The City Planning Commission is also expected to consider the legislation next Tuesday and then hold a hearing on the casino project's plan of development in late May or early June.

POSTED: Wednesday, April 15, 2009, 3:56 PM
The birthday girl

We've got another birthday shout-out today to City Council President Anna Verna.

During today's budget hearings Councilman Bill Green presented Verna with a vanilla pound cake from Termini Brothers to mark the occasion. Out of respect, the cake made no mention of her age, but according to our records Verna hit 78 today.

POSTED: Wednesday, April 15, 2009, 12:21 PM

Our story in today's Daily News about animosity growing the state General Assembly toward a City Council push to consider raising the local wage tax just sparked about 20 minutes of sometimes heated debate in a Council budget hearing.  City Councilman Bill Green spent at least five minutes trying to nail down Rob Dubow, Mayor Nutter's finance director, on whether the administration has been lobbying the General Assembly against the wage tax idea.  Nutter favors raising the local sales and property taxes and stretching out payments in the city's pension plan.  He needs General Assembly approval for the sales tax and pension changes.

Green repeatedly asked Dubow if it would be "extremely irresponsible" for the administration to lobby for one tax over another in Harrisburg.  Dubow, who was frequently interrupted by Green, said that wasn't happening.

"I'm just saying if it's discovered that the administration is trying to wage this battle in Harrisburg, I think that would be extraordinarily irresponsible," Green said. "Let's not lobby for something that may not get through this body.  It's a waste of time any money."

POSTED: Wednesday, April 15, 2009, 11:25 AM
In case this post wasn't embarrasing enough, here's a picture of Jordan Schwartz, then 11, [gray jacket, big smile] with his family.

PhillyClout wishes happy 30th birthday to Jordan Schwartz, that guy with the dark hair and glasses that you see everywhere at the side of Mayor Nutter.  Schwartz's mom, U.S. Rep. Alyson Schwartz, showed up at an event this morning at the Philadelphia International Airport with a giant balloon emblazoned with birthday greetings.  That all happened, we hear, right in front of Ray LaHood, President Obama's secretary of transportation, and Gov. Rendell.  The birthday boy, technically known as special assistant to the mayor, was still blushing as Nutter ribbed him later in front of his staff at City Hall.

About this blog
Chris Brennan, a native Philadelphian and graduate of Temple University, joined the Daily News in 1999. He has written about SEPTA, the Philadelphia School District, the legalization of casino gambling, state government, the mayor, the governor, City Council and political campaigns. E-mail tips to brennac@phillynews.com
 Follow Chris on Twitter

Jenny DeHuff is a 2005 graduate of the University of Rhode Island, where she cut her teeth in journalism. A South Philly transplant from New England, she joined the Daily News City Hall Bureau in 2013. For the past several years, she has worked as an investigative reporter exposing corruption in suburban politics, covering sometimes ghastly criminal court cases and following the people’s money and how its spent. In addition to being a dogged news hound, she enjoys reading and writing about travel, animals, Irish whiskey and aviation. E-mail tips to dehuffj@phillynews.com
 Follow Jenny on Twitter.

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