Council passes budget in final session of season

Kenney's controversial Small Amount of Marijuana bill passed.
Kenney's controversial Small Amount of Marijuana bill passed.
Posted: June 20, 2014

CITY COUNCIL yesterday passed a $4.5 billion operating budget for next year, complete with a smorgasbord of bills out of Council, closing out the final session before its 12-week summer sabbatical.

Council approved borrowing $27 million to help the school district with its needs for the current fiscal year, and Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown introduced a bill that asks to borrow an additional $30 million to ease next year's funding fix. Brown says the loan would be covered by the reimbursement from the extension of the sales tax.

Councilman Jim Kenney prevailed with his controversial but veto-proof Small Amount of Marijuana bill, which amends the Philadelphia Code to create a civil penalty for possessing an ounce or less of weed, punishable by a $25 fine.

"I'll be writing a letter to the mayor asking him to issue an executive order putting this bill in place and not waiting for the entire summer, where we'll end up arresting 300 or 400 more people - which is unnecessary. This is not rocket science," Kenney said.

The measure needed just 12 votes to make it impervious to a veto from the mayor. Kenney got 13, with the three Republicans - Councilmen Dennis O'Brien, Brian O'Neill and David Oh - dissenting.

Speaking later in the day, Mayor Nutter kept his sentiments close to the vest on what action he would take on Kenney's bill.

"It is obviously a complicated piece of legislation," Nutter said.

"Concerns have been expressed by [Police] Commissioner [Charles] Ramsey, District Attorney Seth Williams and representatives in our court system. I don't know that at the local level we can actually decriminalize something that the state deems to be an illegal substance."

Other measures that cleared Council committees in recent weeks also proved successful at yesterday's session. Everything from breast milk to bike sharing to pill mills had their day:

* A bill passed making it illegal for businesses to refuse new mothers the adequate time and place to breast-feed or pump milk while on the job.

* Council President Darrell Clarke got his 1,500 "New Affordable Housing Units Initiative," which will lead to construction of new homes for low- and moderate-income families in designated sections.

* An ordinance authorizing a bike-sharing system passed.

* Doctors whose offices are deemed a "nuisance establishment" or "pill mill" will soon face penalties and stop-work orders.

As for the budget, Nutter said he was pleased with its passage, calling it an "investment budget and a bit of a turning of the page from a few years ago," when financial constraints led to cuts in city services, library closures and tax hikes.

The budget passed 14-2, with Councilmen Mark Squilla and Curtis Jones Jr. voting no. Jones said he voted against the budget in homage to District Council 33, the city's remaining blue-collar union without a contract.

Clarke said that a series of hearings will be held during the summer to deal with ongoing unresolved issues. It was unclear whether any of those hearings would address the potential sale of Philadelphia Gas Works.

Council resumes Sept. 11.


On Twitter: @RuffTuffDH

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