By Kathryn G. Menu
Next Tuesday, voters across New York State will be asked to weigh in on three ballot propositions, although one — whether or not the state should revisit its Constitution — has certainly drawn the most interest among civic organizations and union groups.
Proposal number one — located on the back of the ballot along with two additional proposals — asks a “yes” or “no” question, “Shall there be a convention to revise the Constitution and amend the same?” The state is required to ask voters this proposal every 20 years, and if approved, a statewide convention would be held to consider changes to the state constitution. If approved, New York State voters in November of 2018 would select three delegates from each state senatorial district to represent them at the convention along with 15 “at-large” delegates elected statewide. The convention would be held in Albany in April of 2019. Any proposed amendments to the constitution would be subject to voter approval via a referendum at least six weeks after the convention adjourns, most likely on Election Day in 2019.
The pros and cons of this proposition have been debated at length, with two local forums held late this summer and fall. Some argue a convention could guarantee civil rights, as well as ethics, educational, health, labor and environmental reforms on the state level as those rights face potential threats by the federal government. Others argue it could gut rights and guarantees — including pensions, education funding and the protection of state parks — already sheltered by the constitution. Many unions and environmental groups opposed the convention fearing funding through outside interests could influence the election of delegates, and therefore the convention.
The League of Women Voters of the Hamptons has publicly favored a “yes” vote, with members noting during a forum earlier this year that New York State is a “liberal state,” and that the process could lead to a streamlined state constitution, that effects ethics, election and voting reform otherwise avoided by the legislature. Judicial reforms, environmental issues, healthcare, women’s issues and protection of vulnerable populations could also be enacted through the convention, although any reforms would be decided by delegates, and ultimately voted on by residents throughout the state.
The convention is not without cost. If a majority votes in favor of a Constitutional Convention, delegates will receive for their services the same compensation that would be payable to members of the state Assembly. They would also be reimbursed for travel expenses, and would have the power to appoint officers, employees and assistants as they deem necessary.
Voters will also vote on “allowing the complete or partial forfeiture of a public officer’s pension if he or she is convicted of a certain type of felony” when they go to the polls next Tuesday.
This is a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would allow a court to reduce or revoke the pension of a public officer who is convicted of a felony that has a direct and actual relationship to the performance of the public officer’s duties.
New York’s Constitution now provides that the benefits of a public pension or retirement system cannot be reduced or impaired. This amendment would allow a court to reduce or revoke a public pension, considering the seriousness of the crime, and whether the forfeiture would result in undue hardship on dependent children or spouses.
The proposition was proposed in response to a string of corruption charges on the local and state levels.
Proposition three asks voters whether the state can “authorize the use of forest preserve land for specified purposes.” If approved, the amendment would create a land bank of 250 acres of forest preserve land eligible for use by towns, villages and counties that have no viable alternative to using forest preserve land to address public health and safety concerns.
The Adirondack forest preserve is protected under the “Forever Wild” clause in the state constitution — this would allow certain regions to conduct repairs on roads and bridges, and install bike paths, broadband internet and water well infrastructure. According to the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, many local governments, elected officials and the Department of Environmental Conservation support this proposition, as do environmental organizations. The League said they were unable to find any group opposed to this proposal.