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Council Members Draft DOH Legislation Package

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At a press conference at Jerry's Cafe today, Speaker Christine Quinn and a handful of other City Council Members announced a new package of legislation that, if passed, would make life a little easier for the restaurateurs of this city. The new measures would reduce DOH fines by 15 percent, and change the reporting of violation data. The new package also includes plans to create an office to address complaints and comments, and an optional consultative program for restaurateurs. Quinn explains:

With this legislative package, we're taking steps to ensure that the restaurant inspection process is fair. These reforms will improve the lives of struggling restaurant owners, the workers they employ and the families they support, while preserving a system that protects the safety of New Yorkers.
The Council Members hope and expect that this legislation will get passed this fall. The City Council Members worked with the NYC Hospitality Alliance to draft this package. Check out a statement from NYCHA Executive Director Andrew Rigie on the organization's website, and take a look at the statement from Quinn and the other Council Members below:
Speaker Quinn, Council Members Unveil Reforms to City's Restaurant Inspection System

Comprehensive legislative package addresses concerns of restaurateurs, advocates and experts to ensure that the system is fair, efficient, consistent and accountable

New York, NY – Today, Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn was joined by Council Members Arroyo, Brewer, Reyna, Williams, Comrie, Gentile, Greenfield, Koo, Nelson and Van Bramer to announce a legislative package designed to improve the City's restaurant inspection program while continuing to protect the health and safety of New Yorkers. The officials made the announcement at Jerry's Café on Chambers Street in Manhattan and were joined by General and Legislative Counsel of NYC Hospitality Alliance Robert Bookman, Executive Director of NYC Hospitality Alliance Andrew Rigie, Paul Hurley United Restaurant & Tavern Owners of New York President and Jerry's Café owner Leonard de Knegt.

In 2010, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) introduced a letter grading system with the worthy goals of assisting the public to make informed decisions about where to dine, improving restaurant compliance with health and safety regulations, and reducing food-borne illnesses attributable to restaurants. Since the introduction of letter grading, however – which caused an increase in the frequency of inspections – restaurants raised concerns about the system to the Speaker and Council Members in meetings and at forums, through the Council's citywide Restaurant Inspection Survey and during a March 2012 oversight hearing of the DOHMH. Principal among the issues raised by restaurateurs, advocates and experts were the increased fine burden on restaurants since the introduction of the letter grading system, inconsistencies across inspections and frayed and adversarial relations between DOHMH and restaurants.

Specifically, this new legislative package will address many of these concerns and result in:

Across the board fine reductions;
Fine waiver for restaurant owners/operators who contest an initial inspection's findings at the Administrative Tribunal and ultimately receive an A;
The opportunity for restaurant owners/operators to request a consultative and ungraded inspection for educational purposes;
Establishment of an ombuds office to receive and address comments, complaints and compliments;
Development of an inspection code of conduct pamphlet that inspectors will distribute to all restaurant owners/operators prior to the beginning of an initial inspection;
Creation of an advisory board to ensure ongoing and systemic review of the restaurant inspection program;
Increased and improved reporting of restaurant inspection data; and
Relief from violations relating to the physical layout or structure of a restaurant

"With this legislative package, we're taking steps to ensure that the restaurant inspection process is fair. These reforms will improve the lives of struggling restaurant owners, the workers they employ and the families they support, while preserving a system that protects the safety of New Yorkers," said Speaker Quinn. "The restaurant industry, with its foundation of small businesses, is the lifeblood of New York City and our legislation includes important measures to help restaurants continue to thrive without jeopardizing public health."

"We have an obligation to both protect the public's health and also to protect small business owners from the burden of unfair fines," said Health Committee Chair Maria del Carmen Arroyo. "This legislative package achieves both of those goals. Through our Restaurant Inspection Survey and our oversight hearing, we were able to analyze problems with the restaurant inspection program and develop reasonable and fair solutions. I want to thank Speaker Quinn and my Council colleagues for working collaboratively on behalf of all New Yorkers on this important issue."

"This is a package of common-sense bills to help small businesses while still protecting the public's health in New York City," said Government Operations Committee Chair Gale A. Brewer. "We have worked with all concerned parties in an effort to improve the restaurant inspection system, which serves the public good, without harming the financial viability of the city's restaurants or unfairly stigmatizing them."

"Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and assets to the communities they serve," said Small Business Chair Diana Reyna. "This comprehensive legislative package ensures the city will work with small business owners to help keep them succeeding and boost our economy while keeping restaurants clean and safe for customers."

"Our small businesses deserve a fair playing field that allows the well-intentioned a chance to succeed and add to the richness of the community in which they operate. This legislation allows us to enhance the sanitary conditions of this city's restaurants while ensuring that the DOHMH's evaluation process is fair and consistent across the board," said Oversight and Investigations Chair Jumaane Williams.

"Stakeholders have been quite vocal about the inconsistencies and costs of the current restaurant inspection system. The City Council has made a concerted effort with this legislation to guarantee that eateries are regulated in a safe, sensible and effective manner," said Council Member Leroy Comrie.

"We can protect public health without harming businesses, and this legislation will do just that," said Council Member David Greenfield. "I look forward to seeing a more fair and consistent restaurant inspection system in place as a result of the Council's work."
"The restaurant inspection process is vital to ensuring that all of our city's restaurants adequately meet health and safety standards," said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. "The legislative initiatives that both Speaker Quinn and the New York City Council have developed seek to strengthen and improve this program. It is our hope that this package of legislation will create a fairer inspection system that balances the needs of our city's small business owners while meeting the requirements of the Department of Health."

"The bills that the Council is proposing are reasonable and fair while still allowing the Department of Health to do its job effectively," said Council Member Michael Nelson. "I think this legislation will achieve the results we're aiming for and I thank Speaker Quinn and my fellow Council Members for listening to New Yorkers' concerns and acting to address them."

"No one has worked harder with the NYC Hospitality Alliance to develop these reforms of the Health Department inspection process than Speaker Quinn," said Robert Bookman, General and Legislative Counsel of NYC Hospitality Alliance. "As with all real leaders, she got the parties together and hammered out a path forward...and we thank her and her staff and the mayor's office for this package. Fines will be reduced, inspections will be fairer, due process improved and a system will be created for further changes in the future. All of this helps small businesses without reducing the health and safety of restaurants."

"Speaker Quinn has been a leader fighting for small businesses, and we have been working closely with her to create fair policies that will regulate the industry while not hurting it," said Andrew Moesel, Spokesman for the NY State Restaurant Association. "Restaurants have been under attack for the last several years, and we need smart officials who understand that the hospitality industry, and all small businesses, are the heart of New York City's economy."

· All Coverage of the New York City Hospitality Alliance [~ENY~]