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Street vendors push officials to reduce fines for violations

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A group of street vendors made their way to Jamaica last week to get the borough’s elected officials to support new legislation that would help benefit their needs.

The nonprofit Street Vendor Project rallied at the Jamaica Center subway station last Thursday in a call to several elected officials to get on board with a bill that would reduce the amount of fines street vendors pay and another measure that would redefine violations.

“We want to change the whole system,” said James Williams, a senior board member for the nonprofit.

Under Intro 434, vendors who are slapped with violations by the police, such as not having their licences visible, would face lower fines of $250 rather than a maximum of $1,000. Williams said the fines were raised by the mayor as a way to collect more revenue, but most vendors do not make enough to pay those penalties.

Another bill, Intro 435, would change the actions for which street vendors can be fined in the first place.

“Sometimes street vendors are fined for having a table that’s too long or too close to the curb,” explained Williams, who lives in Jamaica but has a cart in Lower Manhattan, where he sells cell phone accessories.

Intro 434 and Intro 435 have many co-sponsors from all five boroughs, including Council members James Sanders (D-Laurelton) and Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), but the street vendors want to make sure the measures cannot be vetoed.

They are holding several rallies in the districts of the Council members who have not co-sponsored the legislation and the group said it started in Jamaica because of the influence of Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans).

Comrie, the minority leader, has a lot of pull with the other Council members, and if he signed on to the pieces of legislation, it would help in the long run, according to Sean Bsanksi, director of the Street Vendor Project.

“We’re not here to protest Comrie, we’re just here to get his attention,” he said.

Bsanksi said the group has met with Comrie about the legislation and the elected official said he would take a look at the bill, but so far has not co-sponsored it or given any indication that he would vote in favor of it.

Comrie did not return calls for comment as of press time.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 11:59 am, October 12, 2011
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