Constitutional Convention Ballot Proposal
After discussion and review of the process under which the state board applies League positions to specific action and advocacy, and the precedent of how the League board applied the Constitutional Convention position to the 1997 ballot question, the 2017-2019 State board agreed at its first meeting after Convention 2017 that it was the appropriate responsibility of the board to decide whether to support, oppose or stay neutral on the ballot question. Under the position, the League does not have a standing position on whether or not a Constitutional Convention should be held. Instead, the determination is made by the state board every 20 years given current policy circumstances. The new board also affirmed the state League decision to support the ballot measure as a means of giving New York voters the opportunity to consider critical reforms that state government has refused to undertake, such as voting reforms, anticorruption measures, completely independent redistricting, modernizing the court system, and further guaranteeing personal freedom and meeting basic human needs.
A wealth of information on the ballot proposal question on whether to hold a constitutional convention, including articles in favor and against the proposal, was made available on the state League website at http://www.lwvny.org/programs-studies/con-con-edu.html.
We believe that our pro position gave us a unique voice in this process and gave the state League a significant amount of publicity. In addition to the public forums held by our local Leagues all over the state, the state office participated in more than 20 public sessions. We were quoted in countless media outlets, invited to participate in editorial board meetings, and even included in Susan Arbetter’s PBS special on the question which was aired all over the state.
Throughout the campaign, the biggest argument in opposition was the fear that a significant number of protections would be stripped from the Constitution. We countered this argument with the fact that this has never occurred at a convention. The other argument was the potential for dark money to influence a convention. We shared this fear but believed that there was no greater risk of dark money’s influence than what we already experience at the state legislature. The final biggest argument was that delegates would be selected based on gerrymandered Senate districts and would likely be the same corrupt politicians currently serving. Although we agreed that the gerrymandered Senate districts were a real issue, we believed that this convention would not have the same reform gridlock currently plaguing our legislature. We were able to counter each argument made by the opposition but we were vastly outspent.
After the convention vote failed we put out a press statement reaffirming our commitment to amending our state Constitution and calling for widespread reforms:
We are still working in partnership with other reform organizations to advance priority Constitutional amendments through the legislative process.
Weekly Legislative Newsletter
During the 2018 legislative session the League launched a new initiative to help keep members up-to-date on what’s going on in Albany. Our weekly legislative newsletter included what’s happening at the Capitol, upcoming events surrounding advocacy, weekly legislative committee agendas, and weekly League news clips. The newsletter was sent to all members every Friday.
State Update and Concurrence
At the 2017 State Convention, delegates approved two program items:
- An update on the Charter School position adopted in 2006 to delete the following sentence. “In lieu of amendment of the Charter School Act to increase the total number of charters that could be granted, it supports retention of the current total (100) with amendment of the Charter School Act so that a charter could be reissued if a charter school ceased to function for any reason.” The 100 charter school cap has been exceeded over the years and is no longer a relevant number.
- A concurrence with a LWV of Utah’s position on Death with Dignity.
At the state Board meeting in March 2018, the Board approved the results of the update on Charter Schools and the new position on Death with Dignity.
- Charter Schools
Based on the written criteria for updating positions, this proposal passed with more than 2/3 of Leagues participating and agreeing to support the recommended change.
The update allowed for the deletion of the sentence in the position regarding the numeric cap on the number of Charter Schools in the State as that number was out of date.
- Death with Dignity
Based on the written criteria for approving a concurrence, this proposal passed with more than 2/3 of Leagues participating and agreeing to support the concurrence.
The new position is as follows:
- The League of Women Voters of Utah believes state laws should grant the option for a terminally ill person to request medical assistance from a relevant, licensed physician to end one’s life.
- The League of Women Voters believes such legislation should include safeguards against abuse of the dying and protections for medical personnel who act in good faith compliance with the law.
The 2018 Legislative Agenda was made available to all local Leagues. We encourage use of this booklet for education of members, legislators and the public on the issues of concern during the upcoming legislative session. As in the past, we had asked the local Leagues what issues are most important to them and their members. We used this input during our direct lobbying of the legislators and how to prioritize League resources for advocacy work.
Early in the session our legislative activity focused primarily on voting and ethics. Governor Cuomo once again included early voting in his state budget proposals but without funding. We submitted testimony to the Public Protection Budget Committee advocating for funding to support early voting. We also submitted testimony to the Local Government Budget Committee urging them to pass the Governor’s proposed Article VII legislation on ethics and campaign finance, including closing the LLC loophole, limiting outside income and more. On January 23rd, the League participated in a rally to advocate for including funding for early voting in the state budget. The rally was organized by the LetNYVote coalition. LetNYVote is a coalition of grassroots organizations, unions, and other advocacy groups. The rally was a huge success with over 100 attendees including nearly 30 League members. After the rally, some League members lobbied their Senators and Assembly Members on this issue.
A pre-budget lobby packet was mailed to the President and one Co-President of each local League; it was also emailed to all Presidents. We asked local Leagues to schedule lobby visits for the February break to urge legislators to pass early voting and include funding for it in the state budget. The packet included a support memo that could be given to legislators, as well as background materials and FAQs on early voting.
The Governor’s executive original budget proposal included legislation to allow for early voting but not funding to assist counties with implementation. In his 30 day budget amendments, the Governor added $7,000,000 in funding for early voting. We were elated with the new funding and quickly issued a statement thanking the Governor for prioritizing voting reforms.
During this entire month of March, the League and our good government partners advocated for this funding. We encouraged members to reach out to their legislators and the Governor to explain to them the importance of including funding for early voting. The League also submitted testimony on the Governor’s proposed voting reforms to the Joint Budget Committees on Public Protections.
In addition to our voting work, our Education Specialist, Marian Bott, testified to the Joint Budget Committees on Education. She advocated to increase funding for low income school districts and to fully implement CFE.
During March we continued our advocacy efforts around early voting in the state budget. We targeted members of the Senate IDC (Independent Democratic Conference) who had previously expressed their support of including voting reforms in the state budget in the December “One New Yorker Budget Agenda”. They were supportive of the reform in meetings but we faced an unforeseen roadblock, the Assembly Democratic Conference. Many Assembly Members expressed to us that they have received push back from members during closed door conference meetings over the roll out of the proposal and the cost. In addition to meeting with members, we met with Governor Cuomo’s office to discuss the proposal. Unfortunately early voting was not included in the final budget proposal.
Post Budget Lobbying
Each year we ask League members to lobby their state legislators after the state budget is done, giving local League members and legislators an opportunity to exchange ideas and discuss the League’s Legislative Agenda for the session. In 2018 for our core League issue of election reform, covered seven reforms that would make voting easier and more accessible. These included early voting, lowering the voter registration deadline, automatic voter registration (AVR), online voter registration, primary consolidation, no-excuse absentee voting, and ballot access.
In addition to voting reforms, we also advocated for four major campaign finance and ethics reforms including closing the LLC Loophole, banning pay to play, creating a Database of Deals for state contracts, and imposing limits on outside income.
Executive Order on Restoration of Parolee Voting Rights
Currently individuals on probation can vote but those on parole cannot vote under New York law. Many local Leagues have been approached by other organizations to work with them on reforming this law and allowing those on parole to vote. After we initially told the locals that we did not have a position but upon further review of broader LWVUS elections positions, after consideration the state Issues Committee decided that the League can support restoring parolee voting rights. In April, Governor Cuomo issued an executive order that restored voting rights to individuals on parole on a case-by-case basis. We have been following the Executive Order and working with the Governor’s office as well as the Department of Corrections to ensure that parolees who have their right restored are made aware in a timely manner.
The League held its annual Advocacy day in April of 2018. We had representatives from all over the state including Utica Rome, Rochester, North County, Mid-Hudson, Albany, Saratoga, Rensselaer, Schenectady, and New Castle. A total of 55 members attended the trainings and conducted lobby visits with more than 16 legislators. Our members were trained by experts on our various issue areas. Barbara Thomas, LWVNY Issues Specialist on Women’s Issues and Medical Aid in Dying, briefed members on reproductive choice, contraceptive coverage, salary history, and medical aid in dying. Alex Camarda, Sr. Policy Advisor at ReInvent Albany, briefed members on ethics and campaign finance issues including the Database of Deals, Clean Contracting, pay-to-play, and closure of the LLC loophole. LWVNY
Legislative Director, Jennifer Wilson, shared information on the League’s current voting reform agenda and single payer health care. The session ended with a brief overview of the do’s and don’ts of lobbying and a quick rundown of how to track bills using the Assembly website.
End of Session
The 2018 legislative session proved to be difficult for all advocacy groups. The League worked with our coalition partners on a number of different issue areas including health care, reproductive choice, sex education, and education funding. Our main issue areas were voting and anti-corruption reforms. Throughout the session we conducted countless lobby visits, participated in several large rallies, and held numerous press conferences with our coalition partners. Even with our combined strength we were unable to move any meaningful reforms in both legislative houses.
Election law reforms, single payer health care, the Reproductive Health Act, the Contraceptive Coverage Act, and closure of the LLC loophole all passed in the Assembly but were not taken up by the Senate. Our two priority anti-corruption bills, the Database of Deals and Procurement Integrity Act, were passed by the Senate but not the Assembly.
Typically, towards the end of session, the “three men in a room” (the Governor, Senate Leader, and Assembly Speaker) get together and make a deal on what issues they are willing to trade in order to pass a large package of reforms known as “the big ugly.” This year, there was no package of reforms. Instead of meeting with the house leaders, the Governor appeared on several national news stations to chastise the federal government over family separation (an issue our National League has been working on ending).
Many unexpected changes took place over the course of the 2018 legislative session. A Special Election and the reunification of the breakout Senate Independent Democratic Conference with mainline Democrats created increased tension in the state’s upper house. Additionally, all state seats are up for reelection this year leaving many members afraid to vote on reforms that might cost them their re-election bid.
It was a disappointing year in terms of passage of reforms but we were very pleased with this year’s member engagement.