OSWEGO, NY – The Oswego Common Council approved Local Law No. 2 of the Year 2012 at it meeting Monday night without any discussion. The discussion took place prior to the regular meeting.
The local law amends Chapter 228, Taxicabs, of the Code of the city of Oswego.
It is an attempt to ensure proper background checks are done on potential taxicab drivers, explained Third Ward Councilor Mike Todd.
Taxi companies will have a two-week grace period to get the background checks done after the new law goes into affect.
The police department will conduct the checks.
“This is a credit to Councilor (Eric) VanBuren from the Sixth Ward, he did a lot of the legwork on this,” Todd said following the meeting.
“I think it’s important not just for the children but for the safety and well-being of all the residents of this city. We’ve got college students that leave downtown at any given time of night; sometimes they are intoxicated sometimes they’re not and that’s a lot of alone time with someone, who in these two cases are both violent sexual predators,” he continued holding police reports involving two men who the councilor said are Oswego taxi drivers. “We have an obligation to protect the community.”
According to the paperwork the councilor had, one was convicted of raping a girl less than 12 and the other was convicted of raping a girl that was 5.
There are nine such individuals driving cab in the Port City, Todd said.
Sex offenders are already prohibited from going around schools, going around parks. The law is another step in protecting the community, he added.
The law will go into affect as soon as the mayor signs it “and hopefully the community will be a lot safer,” Todd said.
There really wasn’t a single incident that spurred the local law’s creation, the councilor explained. It was an issue that was brought to their attention a while back, he said.
“We were unaware there wasn’t a law already. Quite honestly, we were shocked that it wasn’t a state law and that we even had to act on this,” he said.
Fran Timson, owner of a local cab company, spoke in favor of the proposed law. He cited several violations his competitors have allegedly committed.
The council has been threatened with a lawsuit regarding the passage of the local law.
Christine Savage said at the public hearing prior to Monday’s meeting that the law infringes on the drivers’ rights.
“I strongly suggest you reconsider this resolution,” she said.
Jeremy Zielinski, the founder and CEO of Workforce Advocacy Center, an advocacy group for convicted felons, told the council the new law wouldn’t survive judicial review.
Legal consequences would befall the city if the law was passed, he said.
He pointed out that after about six years of being released from imprisonment; convicts are indistinguishable from any other person in the general public. He offered several studies conducted by state and federal agencies to back up his claim.
“One of the most important things for ex-offenders to have when they are released from prison is to have a job and a stable home,” he said. “Automatically excluding them from jobs is pointless and actually it’s counterproductive.”
A section of New York State correction law prohibits unlawful discrimination against ex-offenders and that includes denial of licenses, he pointed out.
If the city didn’t reconsider the law, he said he had already instructed his attorneys to prepare a lawsuit.
“By the time (the law) gets to the Secretary of State Office to take affect, there will be a restraining order on his desk,” he said. “The only thing you’ll accomplish by passing this is wasting the taxpayers’ money.”
“Lots of people threaten lawsuits. Just about every law, I can’t think of a law that goes into affect and somebody doesn’t file a lawsuit against,” the councilor said. “That’s what we have the State Supreme Court and the Appellate Division for. If they chose to go that route, so be it.”
Todd said he has checked with state lawmakers and judges in regard to the law. He also debunked Zielinski’s claims about sex offenders.
Maybe in the meantime, they can get some of the state lawmakers the council has been in touch with who have an interest in the matter to pas a state law and the city won’t have to worry about it, Todd added.
“Then, it’d be a state law and every community in the state would be protected,” he said.
“The Workforce Advocacy Center is disappointed that the city council did not have the integrity to put facts and law above senseless bigotry. We will be filing suit to prevent the new law from being applied and look forward to having it struck down,” Zielinski said after the meeting. “Anyone who will or may be affected by it may contact us at [email protected]”