No legal memo needed: Pass the S.B.J.S.A. now

David Eisenbach.

BY DAVID EISENBACH | With the Small Business Jobs Survival Act’s public hearing fast approaching on Oct. 22, it’s time for all supporters to join together to save the soul of New York by passing this bill. To do that we need to move past the controversy over whether Council Speaker Corey Johnson must issue a legal memo on the bill before the public hearing.

Last year when I was the only citywide candidate for public office who focused his campaign on the S.B.J.S.A., activists had one demand: “Give us a public hearing on the bill.” I didn’t hear a single activist call for a legal memo before a public hearing. We all agreed that unless we had a speaker willing to hold a public hearing, we would again have a situation like last session when the bill had enough sponsors to pass, but then-Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Small Business Committee Chairperson Robert Cornegy bottled it up in committee. During the race for City Council speaker last fall, my coalition, Friends of S.B.J.S.A., pushed all of the candidates to pledge to hold a public hearing on the bill. The race came down to Cornegy versus Johnson, who was the very first to make the pledge.

Steve Barrison, representing the Small Business Congress, stood with us when we held an anti-Cornegy press conference. All S.B.J.S.A. activists were united in our fight to get a speaker who supported a public hearing, and together we succeeded. Only after Johnson took office did some activists suddenly start demanding a legal memo.

Moving the goalposts on Johnson is not only unfair, it’s unnecessary. Before voting on a bill, it’s not customary for any legislature, including the City Council, to issue a memo certifying the legality of a proposed law. Any law that passes is always assumed to be legal until a judge says otherwise. This summer, the Speaker’s Office did not issue a legal memo on the Airbnb law despite legal objections raised by Airbnb and the New York Civil Liberties Union on privacy grounds. After the bill passed, an Airbnb host filed a lawsuit and, as with any contested law, a judge will eventually decide whether or not the Airbnb law is legal. That’s how the system works, and that’s how it will work with the S.B.J.S.A.

The fight over the S.B.J.S.A. was always political, not legal. The “legal questions” surrounding the bill were simply a dodge — a clever way for successive City Council Speakers Christine Quinn and Mark-Viverito to avoid taking ownership of their decision to shelve the bill. City Council members embraced the “legal questions” line because it allowed them to avoid a vote that would infuriate the Real Estate Board of New York. Now, harping on the need for a legal memo on the eve of the public hearing keeps alive the false debate over the legality of the bill. That’s exactly what REBNY wants the media to focus on, not the fact that we have the opportunity to make history.

Corey Johnson is not an enemy of the S.B.J.S.A., and if he passes it with its essential provisions intact, he’ll be the best friend the bill has ever had. Our fight is against REBNY, which has proudly blocked this bill for more than three decades. If ever there was a David and Goliath story in New York City politics, it’s this battle between the state’s most powerful lobby and us S.B.J.S.A. activists, who are unfunded, disorganized and, at times, totally dysfunctional.

So let’s get it together. Stop promoting conspiracy theories and boycotts and start generating public enthusiasm and media interest about the public hearing.

After 32 years of failure, we are now closer to passing this historic bill than ever before. If we fail, we could wait another generation before a Council speaker is again willing to take a chance on the bill. So I urge everyone to come out for a S.B.J.S.A. rally on the City Hall steps on Mon., Oct. 22, at noon before the hearing. No one ever made history by staying home.

Eisenbach is a former candidate for public advocate and is founder, Friends of S.B.J.S.A.

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