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NYC Human Rights Report Card grades Council Members

Dana Gethers | 3/30/2014, 3:36 p.m.

The Human Rights Project at the Urban Justice Center, UJC, has released its 6th annual New York City Council Human Rights Report Card. The report card which assigns city council members a grade of A, B or C bases marks on their legislative records for the year; bills implemented in areas pertinent to human rights are awarded points.

Thirteen council members scored in the ‘A’ range for 2013, these include; Brooklyn’s Charles Barron, A+, Letitia James, A+, and Jumaane Williams, A, as well as Manhattan’s Robert Jackson, A-, who received a C- in 2011.

The project’s researchers graded the council members on bills introduced for housing, worker’s rights, criminal and juvenile justice, health, disability rights, government accountability and voting rights.

The Human Rights Project maintains that the overall grading system sets out to ensure that Council members are held accountable for the human rights impact of their legislative work, and the yearly publication of the report card brings this information to the public.

Shani Jamila, the Director of the Human Rights Project, which dedicates its work to serving New York’s most vulnerable residents, stresses the importance of adhering to human rights when making political decisions.

“Human rights principles call for discriminatory outcomes to be addressed, even if there is no proof of discriminatory intent. Employing this type of frame means we can call on the City to proactively address disparities that can be tied to City policies,” she said.

In addition to individual grades, the Report Card provides an assessment of each borough’s legislative body as a whole. According to the data, Manhattan delegates collectively scored the highest out of all the boroughs in the seven human rights categories; housing rights (B), workers’ rights (A-), criminal and juvenile justice (A), health (B), disability rights (B), government accountability (B) and voting rights (A).

Nicole Bramstedt, the policy and research coordinator of the Human Rights Project, revealed that the purpose of the report card, which was first released in 2008, is to educate council members and the public about human rights, provide advocates and activists with another tool, and to encourage replication in cities across the nation.

Additionally, the project intends to get policymakers everywhere to utilize a human rights framework when drafting legislation.This would entail emphasizing rights as indivisible, and proactively seeking to advance the rights of all the people they represent with each new bill.

The Human Rights Project held a webinar conference on March 25 to explain their process when measuring performance and determining grades. Individual performance is measured using an eight question questionnaire sent to each council member in which they demonstrate their knowledge and opinions of human rights. The bills they introduced during the given year are then reviewed and classified as major or minor based on their human rights impact. Points are awarded accordingly, and each member is given a number grade that is then subjected to a curve.

Between 2010-2013, the UJC data showed that only 20% of bills introduced coincided with human rights ideals, 225 out of 1,156.

Thirty-nine of these bills were introduced between 2012-2013, 6 criminal justice bills, 3 health, 3 housing, 6 worker’s rights, 19 government accountability, 2 disability rights and 0 voting rights bills.

The Human Right’s Project’s coordinators are pleased with council members efforts so far. Especially with revelation that eight council members used participatory budgeting last year, allowing community members to decide how to spend part of the public budget so that it directly benefits them.

“We are pleased to see our legislators taking action to promote human rights,” said Bramstedt. “We look to the new [2014] Council to enhance this work. New Yorkers’ quality of life depends on it.”