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LWVNY (Statewide) Studies

Should We Hold a Constitutional Convention?

Find all study materials here:

The State Board wants our input on what, if any, position the League should take on the question that will appear on the November ballot on whether or not to hold a constitutional convention (ConCon for short). To comply, we get together to learn and talk about it, lead by members of the Government Committee. In the meantime, we will provide information about it here on our website, with a link to the State materials above.

l to r: J. Samuelson, C. Peacock, A. Sandford, C. Mellor, E. Gellman
On 3/13/17 the Government Committee presented their findings

What is a state constitution and how does it differ from the US Constitution?

When we speak of our "Constitutional Rights" we are, most probably, referring to those rights enumerated in and protected by the United States Constitution. We're probably thinking of that when we say that we have the right to free speech, or to bear arms, or to practice the religion of our choice without fear of governmental interference. But our most fundamental rights and liberties are protected by two constitutions: the federal constitution and the New York State Constitution. It is extremely important that we New Yorkers take the time to look at and evaluate our state constitution, because in November we will have to decide whether we want to convene a state constitutional convention to amend, revise, rewrite or reaffirm our existing contract with our state government. Most of us do not appreciate the significance of a state constitution to our lives or the extent to which our relationship with government is controlled by what it contains. We want to explore these issues so that when, at the next election in November, we are asked: "Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?" we will be able to make an informed choice. First we need to define what a constitution is and what is does Both the state and federal constitutions prescribe how our government will govern and reflect the principles and priorities important to people in fulfilling that function.. As described by former Chief Judge Judith Kaye: A community's constitution is its basic make-up, the source, delineation and delimitation of rights and powers within that society, the collective assessment of the rules of the game under which the process of decision-making and exercise of power within that community will and will not-proceed. As the very basis of a living community, a constitution is necessarily a thing of that particular community.

It is the function of a constitution to express and preserve a community's most basic principles against the danger of transient choices. As the basic priorities of the citizens of the several states may vary somewhat, state constitutions should, and do, express these differences. So, our New York State constitution is, ideally, a reflection of the values and priorities of the people of the state of New York. Our state constitution is our opportunity to declare and protect our core tenets so as to ensure, for our citizens, that these principles will be protected.

What Does Our State Constitution Cover And Why Should We Consider Changing It?

The NYS Constitution is, by any measure, a muddle. It is over 50,000 words, contains redundancies, contradictions and totally obsolete provisions. Yet there are important matters worth addressing and saving and despite its problems, many think we should not convene a constitutional convention which would present the possibility that the good would be thrown out with the bad. NY's Constitution includes an expansive bill of rights, beginning with a bold declaration of one of the most fundamental principles of constitutional government: "No member of this state shall be disfranchised, or deprived of any of the rights or privileges secured to any citizen thereof, unless by the law of the land, or the judgment of his or her peers. " Other rights we consider to be basic to our way of life are guaranteed in our NYS constitution: freedom of speech and of the press, religious freedom, the right to assemble and to petition our government, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures and the right to a jury trial are all contained in our governing document. Why is it important that these rights appear in the state constitution? They are, after all, similar in words and import to many of the rights contained in the US Constitution. But state courts are not limited by the US Supreme Court in interpreting the scope of the rights as expressed in our constitution. The interpretation of the US Constitution as expressed by the Supreme Court provides a minimum below which the rights protected cannot descend, but the state courts can, and do, interpret the state constitution to provide greater rights than those protected by the US Constitution. As explained by former Chief Judge Judith Kaye State courts may not go below the floor of federal constitutional rights as defined by the United States Supreme Court, but they may, as a matter of state constitutional law, recognize greater rights-in effect establishing a ceiling within the state that rises above the federal constitutional floor. As a result, we can look to our state constitution and state courts to protect rights which can be diminished by the US Supreme Court, so long as our state constitution provides the basis on which to do so. But in addition to the rights protected by both the federal and state constitutions, New York State provides different important protections to its citizens. Protections for the physically and mentally disabled, social welfare, housing, principles of labor law are all addressed in our constitution. One of the most revered sections is that known as "Forever Wild." It protects the Adirondacks from development. Further, legislative and judicial structures, and the power of our executive, are all addressed in the state's constitution, as are many of the processes for elections. The range of matters covered by the state constitution contributes to the possibility that changes could disadvantage some citizens since an unlimited constitutional convention inevitably presents some risk to current protections. Proposed amendments could, for example, retain, revise or eliminate the provision protecting public pensions. Of course, voters ultimately vote on whether or not proposed amendments are adopted, but consequential changes could be hidden in a morass of legal language.

What parts of the State Constitution could a Convention change?

The simple answer is : all of them. It is not possible to hold a limited constitutional convention. This it is difficult to delineate all of the issues which might be considered at a constitutional convention. Should a convention take place, the League will issue separate material focusing on the issues being addressed. But, for now, in general terms, issues most likely to be addressed at a constitutional convention include the following. Election Law Many facets of the election law are regulated in Article II including voting qualifications, how we vote, how the Board of Elections should operate, and how to conduct special elections. Many election-related issues important to the League, in particular making registration more accessible to increase participation, can only be addressed through a constitutional amendment. For example, the deadline for voter registration is specified in the Constitution as 10 days prior to an election day (by statute that has been increased to 25 days), and therefore, proposals for same day registration require an amendment to the Constitution. The legislature has been very reluctant to change any aspect of the system that elects them. Issues of Governance The Legislature and Executive are covered in Articles III and IV and many of their provisions are thought to be ripe for updating or revision. These articles include the term tenure of elected offices, how districts are drawn, the balance of powers between the branches, qualifications for elected office, and salary compensation and travel per diem for members. A convention could propose term limits for members and leadership positions in the Assembly and Senate, increase transparency in the budget process, change the numbers of legislators, increase term lengths, stagger terms, or eliminate cumbersome requirements for bill passage. All of these changes have been suggested as improving the structure of the legislature. In addition, the redistricting process for state legislative and Congressional districts is covered in Article III and could be changed at a convention.
Ethics Ethics, corruption and money in politics are among the issues in the forefront of current conversations about our state government. A constitutional convention would be able to draft revisions to the Constitution to address these issues in many ways. For example, it might adopt a provision in the Bill of Rights giving to citizens the right to a fair and decent government performed by elected officials dedicated to serving the people or it might limit the ability of legislators to earn outside income. Meaningful campaign finance reform is also thought to be more achievable through a convention process than the legislative process given the vested interest legislators have in maintaining the current system. Ethics enforcement and oversight could also be strengthened Judiciary The article on the judiciary is thought by many to be fertile ground for revision. The judicial system could be updated, with a consolidated trial court system and merit selection of judges.
Government Funding and Taxation Who can be taxed, how tax dollars are spent, the ability for local municipalities to incur indebtedness are dictated by the Constitution. Property taxes are a major issue in New York State and would likely be addressed through a convention. Education and The Blaine Amendment Article XI of the Constitution covers education. It is a relatively small section that covers common schools, regents, and a very contentious issue - the prohibition of the use of public dollars for private schools also known as the Blaine Amendment. The Blaine Amendment mandates that the use of public property, credit, money, or permit may not be used either directly or indirectly in aid of maintenance (other than for examination or inspection) by any school or institution of learning wholly or in part under the control or direction of any religious denominational tenet. The section does however allow the legislature to provide money for transportation to and from the school, An attempt to remove this provision in 1967 was thought by some to be instrumental in the defeat of the amendments proposed by the convention and it appears that supporters and opponents have already begun to lobby on this issue in advance of the 2017 ballot question. Forever Wild Article XIV of the Constitution deals with the conservation of New York's forest preserves. The Adirondack Park is protected as "forever wild" by article and can only be developed in certain restricted areas. There are advocacy groups that focus on conservation of these lands and business groups that wish to develop on them. A convention could open up the "forever wild" clause for revision and potentially allow for commercial and residential development in parts of the park that would otherwise be mandated as protected lands. viii. Reproductive Choice There are no provisions in the New York State Constitution protecting a woman's right to choose. Under the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade, women have a right to choose their own reproductive activities, guaranteed by the federal Constitution. New York State lawmakers have tried, but failed, to explicitly protect a woman's right to choose in New York through legislative action. A constitutional convention could ensure 14 or prohibit a woman's right to choose in New York State, even if those protections are changed at the federal level. ix.. Pensions New York State's pension system for public employees is protected by the Constitution. Those who work for New York State are entitled to receive pension benefits upon retirement and the Constitution, characterizes these rights as contractual, and therefore not subject to diminution. This protection is also the reason that state legislators who have been convicted of public corruption cannot be deprived of their pensions. x. Other issues Other areas often mentioned as likely topics for revision/insertion into our constitution include educational standards, unfunded mandates, Women's Bill of Rights, and empowerment of local governments generally referred to as "home rule."

LWVNY Position on Legislative Procedures

In January 2017 our State League's Board reached this new position after gathering consensus findings among all participating local leagues. They will now lobby based on this position

State League position on Legislative Procedures

2015 Studies and/or Consensus

Raise the Age presentation

2014 State Studies

Joanne Samborn
Joanne McEvoy-Samborn introduced the speakers at the July 2014 Members Meeting

Introductory Remarks
2014 Ballot Access Study

Samuelson, Marshall
Judy Samuelson and Anne Marshall discussed cross-endorsement and Wilson-Pakula
Pros & Cons of Fusion Voting Pros & Cons of Wilson-Pakula Certificate
Gellman, Samborn, Mellor
Estelle Gellman and Carol Mellor covered Open and Closed Primaries. Joanne Samborn emceed

Open Primaries Instant Runoff Voting Ballot Access in NYS

Closed Primary Ballot

Criteria for Evaluating Election Methods

Intro to Top Two Voter Getters

2014 Term Limits Study

Roth, McClancy
Judi Roth and Barbara McClancy presented pros and cons of term limits
Snapshot of Pros & Cons of Term Limits in NYS

A November 2014 Consensus Meeting Yielded these Results

LWVNY Materials 2014

LWVH Studies

Should the Towns Consider Alternative Models of Government?

Before voting at a "members only" general meeting to form a consensus on the issue of improving local government, a subcommittee of the Government Committee extensively researched the pros and cons of a town government based on the professional manager model. Their information was shared with the membership through articles published in various issues of The Voter

This chart details the results of the government Committee's Spring 2009 study of expenses under the present form of council government: government committee study

2009-2010 Consolidation Study

An ad hoc group from the Government Committee explored opportunities to reform local government through consolidation of entities and/or shared services. The goal was to realize improved efficiencies, reduce redundancy and lower expenses for the resulting entities.

The following material explains the origin and rationale for the 2009-2010 Consolidation Study Use this link for the third of three articles on consolidation

Link to Consolidation Study Justification on LWVNY website

Why Undertake the Study

Rationale for Consolidating Local Governments

Link to all State Resources -- Consolidation-Shared Services Study

Articles from 2010 issues of The Voter

Should We Support the National Popular Vote Compact?

On April 13, 2009, LWVH held a members' meeting to see if consensus could be reached on the issue of the National Popular Vote Compact Initiative. Other Leagues in New York State held similar meetings, all using the same set of questions. The result is that while consensus could not be reached within the Leagues responding, results indicated that 50 percent of participants were in favor, 25 percent were opposed and 25 percent could not reach consensus.

LWVUS (National) Studies 2015

Members of our Government committee presented their findings at a PIM on 11/9/15

Money in Politics 11.9.15 Presentations

Intro Part 1

Types of Money Part 2

How Much Spent Part 3

First Amendment Discussion Part 4

History Part 5

Citizens United Part 6

Looking Forward Part 7

link to LWV Money in Politics materials 2015