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The Human Rights Project works to equip advocates with practical tools for evaluating policy, challenging social inequity and imagining possibilities for change—all using a human rights lens.

New York City Council Watch is an ongoing project to examine and evaluate New York City Council through a human rights lens.  The City Council, as the legislative body of the city, has the power to significantly improve the pervasive income inequality, poverty, gender inequalities, racial inequalities and other discriminatory outcomes in a variety of sectors.  Under a human rights framework, Council has the obligation to act proactively to advance equality in the city.

The annual New York City Council Human Rights Report Card is the primary policy analysis output of the Council Watch project.This is the only publication of its kind: comprehensively evaluating Council members’ legislative records across a range of human rights issues including housing rights, criminal and juvenile justice, government accountability and more. It is a tool for education and action that equips New Yorkers with relevant information to hold the Council accountable and to demand higher standards of service and protection.

The Report Card is:

  • A vehicle for community engagement and human rights education.If you are interested in scheduling a training for your organization, please click here
  • An organizing tool for advocates.If you are interested in ordering copies of the Report Card, please follow the instructions in the next section.
  • A model for others. If you are interested in creating a report card for your city, please contact us to learn more about our technical assistance.

Donate for a Report Card
The most recent New York City Council Human Rights Report Card is available in its entirety for a suggested donation of $10. Upon ordering, you will receive free access to a digital version of the report along with your hard copies. To order the report and to receive the password to access the electronic version, please click below to make a donation.

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In order to preserve the integrity of the Council Watch project, we do not accept financial contributions from people affiliated with the New York City Council. If you are a member of Council or a staff member who would like access to this report, please contact councilwatch@urbanjustice.org.

To peek inside the most recent Report Card, please click on the following links:

 

Testimony:

"The Human Rights Report Card… is not only an indispensable tool for holding city council members accountable for upholding human rights in NYC, a worthy goal in and of itself, but it also sends a message to the world that human rights is a viable mechanism for social change in the U.S.” --Jesse Hawkes, Global Youth Connect

"The Human Rights Report Card is an incredibly valuable tool for improving local recognition of and compliance with human rights. It allows policymakers to see, in concrete terms, what policies they can support to improve local conditions. The Report Card is also an important resource because it makes New York’s politics and local policies more accessible to community members.” –JoAnn Kamuf Ward, Human Rights Institute, Columbia Law School.

How we grade
Using an assessment process rooted in human rights principles and in consultation with advocate groups, we review all legislation before Council and develop a list of legislation that promotes human rights. This list is provided to all Council members for review prior to our grading process, as well as a deadline date by which sponsorship of legislation has to be recorded online in order to count toward a grade. Council members are graded based on sponsorship of and votes on human rights legislation and, when applicable, votes to override Mayoral vetoes of human rights legislation. Primary sponsorship is awarded more points than co-sponsorship, with points allocated according to the rubric specified in the chart. Council members are not graded on those votes from which they abstained or for which they were absent, or excused.

All bills are assigned a weight: either major or minor. Minor bills are those which propose a limited solution to a larger human rights problem, impact only a portion of an affected population, or work to increase transparency and government accountability in ways that are important but do not significantly transform government functioning. Major bills, rather than proposing a narrow fix to a specific problem, attempt to change the policies of the city in a manner that would move it towards becoming a standard-bearer in its protection of human rights. These bills seek to change the landscape much more significantly and broadly—implementing more comprehensive solutions, dramatically changing existing policy, impacting more affected people, or increasing transparency and government accountability in ways that will fundamentally alter the functioning of government and government agencies. Legislation that is determined to have a major impact is awarded twice the points as minor legislation.

All Council members are sent a Human Rights Questionnaire to allow them an equal opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of and opinions about domestic human rights, and to indicate their legislative and budget priorities for the legislative session. Text from the Questionnaire has been excerpted to create profiles for each council member.

What to expect in 2014
During our last election, we experienced momentous change in the New York City Council: the selection of a new Council Speaker and the introduction of 21 freshman members. This election significantly changed the composition of Council, which means we have a new opportunity to change the landscape of New York City. Our most recent iteration of the report card looks back at the 2010-13 legislative session, draws out themes and lessons learned, and outlines a human rights vision for our current legislative session.