Friday, October 17, 2014

The importance of voting on proposals & a look at Proposal 2

Editor’s note: This is the first of a 3-part series looking at the statewide proposals on New York ballots

This November voters across the region will take to the polls in great numbers to select a successor to Senator George Maziarz. For the first time in 20 years, it’s a real contest. That race in combination with a variety of statewide campaigns (Governor, Attorney-General, Controller) certainly ensures that November 4th has the attention of the electorate.    

But, despite that action at the polls, will they take the time to properly study the other items on the ballot – Proposals 1, 2, and 3 – so they can make an educated decision on this important matters? Or, will they do as they have so often in the past and ignore those items completely? 
It all comes down to this: Americans love their politics, but they hate policy.

Politics is sexier. They can see candidates battle mano a mano at the debate podium and in dirty television advertisements. Voters dig that conflict, and they also relish the fresh ideas that come from incumbents and challengers this time of year (although those concepts are rarely acted upon in the earnestness promised). 

For reasons antithetical to the above, voters don’t involve themselves with the nuances of public policy. It can be really dry, a boring collection of legalese and regulations. People don’t care about that.

Look no further than 2013’s general election. With the heavily-contested casino proposition on New York ballots you would have thought turnout would be phenomenal. It wasn’t. Of almost 11.8 million voters in the Empire State, only 2.8 million – or 24% - cast their “yea” or “nay” for casinos.     

I, on the other hand, find policy more attractive than politics. It is policy that really affects our day-to-day lives. The way an elected official looks or behaves? That sort of stuff is meaningless when it comes to our economy and personal rights.      

So, I am trying once again to get people to look at their ballots in that fashion. This year, as with last, I will be spending the next few weeks breaking down each ballot item so you can turn your attention to these important matters and attend to your civic responsibilities dutifully.

This year’s series will look at the proposals not in numerical order but rather in increasing level of controversy, so the deepest and most important matters are saved for last and fresher in your head on Election Day.

There’s really no controversy to be had when it comes to Proposal 2 which reads as follows:

The proposed amendment to section 14 of Article 3 of the State Constitution would allow electronic distribution of a state legislative bill to satisfy the constitutional requirement that a bill be printed and on the desks of state legislators at least three days before the Legislature votes on it. It would establish the following requirements for electronic distribution: first, legislators must be able to review the electronically-sent bill at their desks; second, legislators must be able to print the bill if they choose; and third, the bill cannot be changed electronically without leaving a record of the changes. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?

This is the twenty-first century. Going electronic on state bills is a logical step in so many ways, a modern day upgrade of the print-only language of the 1938 iteration.

In 2012, both houses of the state legislature introduced a combined 16,102 bills. The Senate and Assembly would print up their version of the bill and issue a copy to the office of each legislator – 150 assemblymen and 63 senators. Only 571 bills passed both houses that year which means all other proposed bills were moot and thousands upon thousands of multi-page documents were thrown out (realize that the state budget alone is almost 3,000 pages). That’s a lot of wasted paper, toner, staffing and money. The total cost to taxpayers for printing these bills is $53 million per year according to Assemblyman Jim Tedisco.         

It should be noted that when looking at the language of the full text of the proposal, the amendment does not scratch the requirement that the legislators should have access to the bills for 3 days prior to the vote.

This Constitutional amendment -- albeit for something simple -- is necessary and wise. It streamlines government and saves money and, in process, the environment. 1,700 tons of bills went to the recycle bin last year which, as some cynics would say, is right where they belong.   

From the 20 October 2014 Lockport Union Sun and Journal

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