City Council approves hate-crime measure, moves to regulate the use of drones

Kevin Harrigan (left), Philip Williams (center) and Kathryn Knott were charged in an attack on a gay couple.

 

City Council unanimously approved a measure on Thursday that would make it a crime to harm someone because of sexual orientation, gender identity, or disabilities.

The proposal was triggered by the Sept. 11 assault on a gay couple in Center City.

In that case, police arrested three people but could not charge them with a hate crime because neither state law nor the city code makes it a crime to harm someone because of sexual orientation.

The measure approved Thursday, expected to be signed into law by Mayor Nutter, calls for up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000 for crimes committed against a person because of sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

A similar bill was introduced at the state level last month, but it has stalled. The state's current hate-crime law applies only to attacks based on gender, religion, or ethnicity - not sexual orientation.

Passage of the city measure was hailed by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, a co-sponsor of the bill.

"My heart hurts for all people who are targeted because of who they are," she said in a statement. "If you think it is appropriate to hurt someone with hate in your heart, there will be a price to pay."

Council also passed a bill that would increase the penalties for selling a BB gun to a minor.

The proposed law would revoke for up to a year the business license of vendors that do so. It would also include fines of up to $2,000.

The bill passed, 16-1, with Councilman David Oh voting against it.

Another bill, which would create a vacant-property task force to regulate large deteriorating properties, passed unanimously. The task force - an idea that arose from the 2012 fire at a vacant Kensington warehouse that killed two firefighters - would catalog and arrange for routine inspections of an estimated 400 such properties throughout the city.

In another matter, Councilman James Kenney introduced a bill to regulate the use of drones, or unmanned aircraft systems, and create penalties for improper use of them.

The bill drew some jokes around City Hall because Councilman Bobby Henon has a drone he uses for some events in his Northeast Philadelphia district. Kenney's office apparently didn't know about Henon's drone. The councilman's drone was not purchased with city money, his spokesman, Eric Horvath, said Thursday.

The drone measure would prohibit any person, entity, or city agency from using an unmanned aircraft to conduct surveillance on any person or property without written consent. It would also ban use of drones above gatherings of people.

The bill carved out some exceptions for the Police Department's use of drones in missing-person cases or during fires.

The penalties, to be enforced by police, would be forfeiture of the device and up to 30 days in jail or a fine of up to $1,000.

Finally, Councilman Bill Greenlee introduced an ordinance that would prohibit the sale or lease of public parking spaces.

Greenlee's bill, along with Kenney's, was referred to committee for public hearings.

 


cvargas@phillynews.com

215-854-5520

@InqCVargas

Continue Reading