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Courtesy of Antoine Taveneaux/Wikimedia Commons

From mandatory security cameras outside Smokey Joe’s and Blarney Stone to a five cent fee for plastic bags at Fresh Grocer, certain City Council bills that will be re-introduced in 2016 might directly affect University City businesses and clientele.

A new City Council is currently in session and members of the Council will be working diligently in the coming months to reintroduce bills that did not see the light of day last year.

One such bill would force businesses that serve alcohol to place security cameras outside of their establishments.

The bill was proposed last year by Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. following the November 2014 disappearance of Shane Montgomery, whose body was found in the Schuylkill River in January 2015. The West Chester University student went missing after leaving a bar in Manayunk, but police had trouble tracking him down due to lack of video surveillance outside the bar. His body was found five weeks after going missing.

The piece of legislation received significant opposition and was rejected in committee. However, the bill will be presented again this year, according to Joshua Cohen, Councilman Jones Jr.’s spokesperson.

Jones’ persistence to get the bill passed in 2016 comes from a promise Councilman Jones made to Karen Montgomery, mother of Shane Montgomery.

“After a phone call from Councilman Jones to [Montgomery’s] mother, he promised her that we would introduce a bill that would mandate having cameras in establishments with commercial activity license,” Cohen said. “In no way do we think [cameras] would have saved him from drowning, but at least it could have given police a starting point as to where he had gone.”

The passage of such a bill would force University City businesses such as Smokes’, Blarney Stone, and City Tap House to comply with its stipulations.

The potential bill will most likely face opposition from the Philadelphia restaurant industry, which advocated against it last time around. The proposed legislation in 2015 presented serious burdens for business owners. Restaurants and bars would have to bear the financial cost associated with hardwiring the security cameras and implement video monitors, according to Melissa Bova, Director of Government Affairs at the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association (PRLA).

Bova recognized the bill’s genuine intention, but pointed out potential conflicts for restaurants in high rises or establishments that would have to bear costs even though they were leasing their business space from a landlord.

“We don’t really think [the bill] is going to have the benefit the Councilman is working for,” Bova said. “Why are restaurants being targeted? If you’re going to target the industry, target every business out there.”

Another bill that may reemerge soon proposes charging customers a five cent fee for non-reusable shopping bags at supermarkets and stores. The University City establishments that would most markedly be affected include two CVS stores and Fresh Grocer supermarket.

“Plastic bags become trash among the additional trash of the city of Philadelphia,” said Councilman Mark Squilla, who presented the bill last summer. “We saw [the bill] as a way to possibly remove some of the blight in the city by reducing the number of bags being used at purchase.”

No hearing was held in 2015 for this piece of legislation due to the imminent election cycle and opposition from the chemical industry, which manufactures plastic bags.

Squilla said that the bill — or another version of it — will be re-introduced about a month after scheduled meetings with the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and the Philadelphia Department of Revenue, both of which would be in charge of enforcing the bill.

Although similar legislation has been enacted in cities like San Francisco, Chicago and Washington D.C., critics question how such a fee would affect the poorer sectors of the city. Squilla argued that “a lot of stores that cater to the people of the poorer populations” already make you pay for bags, but that his office is looking into incentivizing the usage of reusable bags.

“It’s kind of hard to argue with the intention of keeping the city cleaner,” he said.

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