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Testimony from the Street Vendor Project

New York City Council Committee on Small Business

in re Proposed Intros. 64-A & 66-A
May 11, 2006

My name is Sean Basinski and I am director of the Street Vendor Project of the Urban Justice Center,
a membership-based non-profit organization with nearly 500 active, dues-paying members who are
all New York City street vendors from diverse backgrounds. Thank you for inviting us to testify
today. We are strongly in support of Proposed Intros 64-A and 66-A; they will help give small
businesses a chance, especially our smallest of small businesses: our street vendors.
Proposed Intro 64-A

We strongly support Proposed Intro 64-A. For more than two years, our organization has been
fightingt heECB’ sa tt
emptt or aisevending fines to more than $1,000 per violation. This is an
amount that no vendor can pay, and it is putting many hard-working people out of business because
of simple mistakes. There may be some cases of flagrant, repeat offenders where a $1,000 fine is
appropriate. But the vast majority of vending tickets we see are for minor violations –like having
your license in your pocket instead of around your neck. Right now, the ECB has said that the judges
must give the maximum fine –which in many cases is $500 or $750 or $1,000 per ticket. ECB
judges should be able to factor in the circumstances of each case and decide what is the appropriate
fine within each range. That is what judges are supposed to do. That is why we support Proposed
Intro. 64-A.

Proposed Intro 66-A

We also support Proposed Intro. 66-A. The most important piece of that proposal for the vending
community is the provision to provide intepreters at ECB court. More than 80% of vendors in this
city are immigrants, and they are often the most recent immigrants with the fewest English language
skills. Unlike in criminal court in civil court, ECB litigants are not provided with interpreters. This
often leads to miscarriages of justice. How can a person present a defense to the judge if he or she
doe sn otspeakEn glish?The yc an’t.Thes impl ef
acti st hatpe oplea rebe ingfoundg uiltya ndbe i
n g
forced to pay $1,000 fines because they do not speak English.

The ECB has testified that it would cost too much to provide translators, but there are easy and cost-
effective ways to do so. This week we spoke to two companies1 that provide translation via
telephone, in 200 languages, 24 hours a day, for $1.50 per minute or less. In fact, the City already has
a contract with Language Service Associates for its 311 calling center! Why are people allowed
access to 200 languages to report a pothole but not when they are facing $1,000 penalties that put
their businesses at stake? Our estimate is that it would cost about $250,0002 yearly to provide
translation for every street vendor who needs an interpreter at ECB. This is a tiny fraction of the $60
million the ECB collects in fines every year. It is a small price for justice.

Thank you for allowing us to testify today. We look forward to working with the Council to make
these bills a reality.

CTS Language Link from Vancouver Washington and Language Service Associates from Philadelphia.
The ECB hears about 12,000 vending cases every year. If half of those vendors need intepreters, and each hearing
lasts for an average of 30 minutes, the total cost to ECB (at $1.50 per minute) will be $270,000.

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