Election 2017: Decoding the ballot propositions

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BY LOIS B. MORRIS & CATHY ANN KENNY

All Shelter Islanders: Take responsibility for your community and vote! And while you’re at it, turn over your ballot, where you’ll find three propositions for your consideration.

ConCon The first one, which has received a great deal of attention, if not clarity, is whether or not to convene a constitutional convention in April 2019 to revise and amend the state constitution. The state constitution mandates that a vote be taken every 20 years.

The last convention was held in 1967. If the measure passes this year, a Constitutional Convention — or ConCon, as it’s being referred to these days —  will convene in April 2019. Whatever amendments that are proposed will face voters once again, probably in November 2019.

Although legislators can amend the constitution on their own, a constitutional convention is the only way voters can directly address issues that have remained intractable in the state Legislature.

According to proponents, a convention will most significantly provide voters with a chance to modernize the constitution; revamp the state’s highly complex court system; simplify voting (with online voter registration and early voting, for example); revamp legislative districts; and enhance local autonomy or Home Rule.

The state constitution grants localities the authority to decide how best to govern their own communities, but through various court decisions and legislative mandates this power has been diminished. According to a recent study, New York imposes more unfunded mandates than any other state. Constitutional delegates and voters could change that.

ConCon opponents argue that there is a risk that certain protections granted in the current Constitution, such as state pensions and school funding, could be removed.

They are equally concerned that the systemic problems affecting Albany today would overtake the convention process. Proponents suggest that analysis of previous conventions does not give credence to this concern. They say there is little history of taking away rights but more evidence that such conventions added more positive rights; bill of rights for labor, the obligation to aid and care for the needy, and environmental protections, for example, have all resulted from previous constitutional conventions.

Worries on both sides no doubt are amplified by our currently dysfunctional national politics. Who can we trust?

If ConCon does pass, the voters will ultimately decide which amendments proposed by the delegates will be adopted when they are placed on the ballot in 2019.

The League of Women Voters of New York State supports the convention and suggests that voter influence over the delegates is key. “We will work with other groups in New York State to strengthen the delegate selection process to ensure the election of an informed and diverse group of delegates committed to fundamental reform,” says State League President Dare Thompson.

The League of Women Voters of Shelter Island takes no position on this issue. But we do urge you to beware of “fake news,” such as the little tidbit floating around the internet that not voting on the amendment is equivalent to a “Yes” vote. Not true at all, on this proposition, or the following two.

Proposition 2 This seeks to amend the state Constitution regarding state pensions of public officials and staff who are convicted of corruption that has a direct and actual relationship to the performance of their public duties.

A court could determine, after notice to the public officer and a hearing, if a public officer convicted of such a felony would lose part or all of the pension. New York’s constitution now provides that the benefits of a public pension or retirement system can be altered only if the public employee took office after 2010.

This proposition would make the penalties retroactive to those who took office earlier — which is why it’s on the ballot.

Proposition 3 The third proposition would create a “land bank” of 250 acres in the Adirondacks and Catskills forest preserve for use by a town, village, or county for the specified purposes including health and safety.

Because these areas are constitutionally protected as “Forever Wild,” counties and communities can’t use any of it even for essential services without seeking a constitutional amendment each time. If this proposition passes, they will be able to purchase small parcels of land for fair market value or donate comparable acreage to the state.

Lois B. Morris is president of the League of Women Voters of Shelter Island. Cathy Ann Kenny is a past president of the League.

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