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De Blasio Signs Bills Easing Penalties For Low-Level Offenses; Some Cry Foul

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday signed legislation to ease penalties for minor offenses such as littering and public urination.

As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, some see the legislation as badly-needed reform, but others consider it a move that will hurt quality of life in the city.

Under the sweeping package of criminal justice reforms that de Blasio enacted Monday, people arrested for public drinking or urination, littering, unreasonable noise, and ignoring park rules will face civil fines rather than criminal penalties.

"This legislation will pay a crucial role in building a fairer criminal justice system for all New Yorkers. It will help us drive down crime and at the same time, reduce arrests and incarceration. And this is a crucial point – those two concepts are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they can and must go together. We need to continue to drive down crime while reducing arrests and incarceration," de Blasio said. "For too long, one small wrongdoing has come with a huge cost for so many individual New Yorkers."

Supporters said the legislation will ease the court system backlog by removing 100,000 cases a year from the docket, and will also spare 10,000 people from a criminal record.

De Blasio said people who have ended up with criminal records for minor offenses have suffered tremendously.

"It prevented New Yorkers from getting housing or jobs, jeopardized their immigration status or their eligibility for college or financial aid," de Blasio said. "This is just wrong. A minor, nonviolent act of poor judgment should not determine one's destiny."

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said the current laws regarding minor offenses have made certain communities suffer more than others, "predominantly people of color whose lives and trajectories were forever changed by their interaction with the criminal justice system."

City Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-45th) said the takeaway should not be that the city is now indifferent to quality of life offenses.

"No one wants anyone urinating on their streets. As was mentioned, we didn't take away tools from the Police Department. We added tools to the Police Department so we can make things fair and more just," Williams said.

Still, it turned out there are a lot of people who do not think the law is a very good idea.

City Councilman Paul Vallone (D-19th) called the legislation "a get out of jail free card."

"It was definitely a mistake in my eyes," he said.

Vallone said the legislation handicaps the NYPD, and said de Blasio should rethink some of his progressive policies.

"Letting go on those quality of life crimes is the wrong approach that we should take in this day and age," Vallone said. "We need to be safe at all costs. Everything else crumbles without quality of life, and our safety goes with it."

Some New Yorkers are all too familiar with scenes they say undermine their quality of life. Across from the Bellevue Men's Shelter in Kips Bay, one man was photographed defecating on the curb right in front Terri Pennacchia's building across the street.

"I mean, this is commonplace!" Pennacchia told CBS2's Hazel Sanchez last week. "I wish I could tell you that that was a horrible thing that happened once in a blue moon."

Astoria, Queens resident Kimberly Elizabeth said patrons of local bars use her block as a urinal.

"Where I live on 23rd Avenue and 36th Street, you find them urinating all the time under the Amtrak overpass," she said. "I don't like it at all. There's a lot of children on our block. Some of them urinate in people's gardens."

Bill Raussis of Bayside, Queens said the legislation dealing with such offenses is insensitive to hardworking New Yorkers.

"He's making a mistake by doing that, because you know what? You have taxpayers. You have people that pay to live here," Raussis said. "You've got to think of them first."

Bradley Tusk of New York City Deserves Better said of the legislation: "This is not the time to weaken the rules on public safety. Last year, murders were up, robberies were up, rapes were up."

Officials insisted that officers will still have the option to make arrests in extreme legislation or for repeat offenders.

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