Philadelphia City Council is back in action after more than a monthlong winter break. And the first meeting of 2014 was quite busy.
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown kicked off the new year by introducing legislation calling for annual city certifications of all day-care centers in Philadelphia.
Smaller, home-based day-care operations aren't checked on enough, despite a mandate under Pennsylvania law, she said.
"Inspections should happen on an annual basis," she said. "Our research revealed that they are absolutely not and some haven't been inspected in more than two or three years."
Her bill would require certification that the building is in compliance with fire-safety and other property requirements, along with a certification that it is free of lead paint and has met water-quality standards, among other requirements.
Following a deadly fire escape collapse this month, Councilman Curtis Jones is calling for hearings on structural safety in the city.
Concerned that some of Phildelphia's older buildings could be crumbling without anyone being aware of the deterioration, Jones said "it's time to take a look at it.
"I wouldn't classify it as many," he said. "But not enough are assuring us ... that those structures are sound. The average house in Philadelphia is over 50 years old."
A fire escape expert who instructs building inspectors on how to look for trouble signs says most of the older escapes he reviews in Philadelphia have problems that could cause injuries or even death.
In the wake of this week's derailment of a train carrying crude oil that caused a scare but no spills, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson is calling for the freight rail company CSX to attend a council investigative hearing to explain its maintenance procedures. There are warning signs near the freight tracks, he said..
"It's a lack of commitment to maintain their bridges and their railways. In part of my southwest district, their railways are filthy, filled with trash," Johnson said. "A lot of illegal dumping takes place along their railways and they don't make a good effort in maintaining it."
While he has reached out to CSX officials, Johnson said he wants to hold the hearings so company officials can explain the situation to the entire Council.
Other bills introduced at the first meeting include one that would pave the way for the new Comcast tower and one amending the city's indoor smoking ban to cover electronic cigarettes.