Tuesday, October 19, 2021

A look at Proposal No. 5


Editor’s note: This is the conclusion of a four-part series looking at the statewide proposals on November’s ballots.


Sometimes, due to the specificity of the Constitution of the State of New York, local issues come to the fore on November’s statewide ballots. Such is the case next week, when even we here in WNY – a 7-hour drive from the Big Apple – must decide the fate of an amendment that applies only to civil courts in New York City.


Proposal 5, the last of the bunch, asks us: The proposed amendment would increase the New York City Civil Court’s jurisdiction by allowing it to hear and decide claims for up to $50,000 instead of the current jurisdictional limit of $25,000. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?


We’ve been posed this because the Constitution established the NYC Civil Courts in 1962. Therefore, constitutional amendments must be proposed in order to change the court’s powers.


When formed, said court was allowed to adjudicate claims of $10,000 or less. In 1983, in response to inflation, voters across the state approved the current ceiling of $25,000. It has remained unchanged for 38 years, actually weathering a similar proposal in 1995.


To supporters of this bill, this makes sense in two ways.


First in line is inflation. To have the same buying power as one dollar in 1983, someone today would spend $2.75. All of things in life that could lead to damages or grievances have gone up in cost and the court’s abilities should adjust accordingly.


The second factor could be access to the courts and workload put on inappropriate courts. Now, if someone wanted to file a rather simple civil claim in excess of $25,000 in NYC, he’d have to take it to the Supreme Court. That’s at once a hassle for the plaintiff and the Supreme Court -- the latter, especially, shouldn’t be bothered with such things and higher courts are backlogged because of it.


Those against the amendment will say that it empowers lawyers to acquire more money by taking on more cases in volume in the lower court where injured parties are more likely to file. Also, some within the city limits might worry about the burdens (costs and backlogs) it will bring to the civil courts.


Opponents to the bill are few and far between – none could be found in the State Legislature as the proposal unanimously passed both houses in 2020 and 2021, and it’s difficult to find “no” statements from newspaper editorial boards or bloggers.


Despite that, what looks like a shoe-in could fail, just as it did in 1995.


Local proposals often meet their demise on statewide ballots because those not affected by them tend to vote “no” because they either didn’t do their homework or it’s on the principle that they shouldn’t be bothered with other peoples’ troubles.


Please, don’t approach the polls that way, whether it’s with this proposal or the other four. Each amendment will impact someone in some way, whether it’s passed or turned down. It may not be you. But, it will be another human being. They deserve the same consideration for their well-being as you would expect them to provide you. Take the time to consider each of the proposals and vote with your heart and mind.


We’re given incredible power and responsibility in our constitutional republic; don’t throw it all away.



From the 25 October 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Monday, October 18, 2021

A look at Proposals No. 3 and 4


Editor’s note: This is the third in a four-part series looking at the statewide proposals on November’s ballots.


Given the political theater that’s surrounded elections the past year-and-a-half – one half of the country wants to see more access while the other half wants to combat fraud – it’s not unexpected that New York voters will be faced with ballot measures about voting.


The first of those, proposal 3, asks: The proposed amendment would delete the current requirement in Article II, § 5 that a citizen be registered to vote at least ten days before an election and would allow the Legislature to enact laws permitting a citizen to register to vote less than ten days before the election. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?


64% of the adult population of NY is registered to vote, meaning that just over 5 million people are eligible by both age and residency but have not taken the steps necessary to participate in the election process.


That’s a lot of people who remain silent either by choice or by impediment.  


Proponents of what’s been proposed appreciate the access that the amendment provides to the latter category.


For the unregistered, there may be confusion over how the registration process works -- after all, civics classes, for the most part, have been neutered in public schools and we aren’t properly preparing young New Yorkers for the responsibilities of self-government before them. For New Americans, registration could be stymied by language barriers and a misunderstanding of how the political system works -- consider that only 58% of Asian and 62% of Hispanic New Yorkers are registered, compared to 73% of whites.


By eliminating the 10-day grace period, the amendment could help the unregistered find their voice by providing same-day registration, meaning they could show up at the polls, register and vote at once. That would make the polls a one-stop electoral destination, eliminating the hurdles some people might otherwise find in participating.


Opponents see an amendment that’s fraught with unfunded mandates and fraud.


Currently, what you see is what you get. The change to the amendment is all we have to work with. No one knows what’s on the other side of it. The Legislature won’t develop their laws around it until the amendment is passed. There’s currently no framework regarding funding, training, processes, or infrastructure for poll workers to provide registration services.


How would they do it? Would they be empowered with a computer with which they could enter the applicant’s info and double-check eligibility? Would they only collect a paper registration form and the ballot, entering it after Election Day and recognizing the newly-registered’s ballot as a sort of absentee ballot to count later?  


And what of the potential for fraud and error? What if the applicant appeared at the wrong voting precinct? What if the registrar didn’t properly identify a new voter’s eligibility and allowed that person to vote in an improper district? What if registrants flooded the poll station and created backlogs and headaches for other voters and poll workers alike?


Proposal 4 also comes with its own conflict.


Under current law, you can’t receive an absentee ballot unless you are physically absent from the county of residence on Election Day or illness or disability makes it difficult if not impossible to venture to the polls. 


The ballot item would recognize what’s known as no-excuse absentee balloting if this question were answered to the affirmative: The proposed amendment would delete from the current provision on absentee ballots the requirement that an absentee voter must be unable to appear at the polls by reason of absence from the county or illness or physical disability. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?


Those against this see another means in which fraud could influence the elections. They say that anyone could fill out an absentee ballot and there’s no means to verify who actually did. It’s not as if there’s a poll worker present, who knows her community, that can verify by knowledge or engagement that the voter is who they say they are. The opponents of the change also say that if someone is serious about placing a vote, they will find the time to do so in person, given the various opportunities available. 


Proponents will counter with the fact that there are various double-checks in play – a voter has to request a ballot; the Elections Board verifies name, address, and district; the voter seals and signs the security envelope; and, the Board verifies the signature. Supporters will also cite that it’s what the rest of America does: 5 states conduct elections by mail and 29 more offer no-excuse absentee voting.


They’ll also say no-excuse absentee voting offers much-needed convenience for those with busy lives who still want to help decide the who and what of our government. Think of the single mom balancing a job and kids, the businessperson who travels often or works long hours, the dairy farmer who has to tend to milking and feeding of his herd throughout the day, or the nurse who pulls double shifts at an understaffed hospital. They are all busy and deserve the convenience of an absentee ballot so they can be a good citizen at the polls and at home and work.     


When it comes to these ballot items, tune out the noise. Both sides have been incredibly vocal about voting rights or fraud. So, take a step back, analyze the proposals on their own merits, and make your decision on what you think the risks and rewards are.



From the 18 October 2021 Greater Niagara Newspaper and Batavia Daily News        

Thursday, October 7, 2021

A look at Proposal No. 2

Editor’s note: This is the second in a four-part series looking at the statewide proposals on November’s ballots.


Last week’s column looked at proposal 1 which is a convoluted mess that asks five different questions in the form of one. Proposal 2 is more straightforward. It comes at you with this:  The proposed amendment to Article 1 of the New York Constitution would establish the right of each person to clean air and water and a healthful environment.  Shall the proposed amendment be approved? 


That’s a simple enough inquiry. But to some, it may seem like an unusual ask because, for the most part, the state’s Constitution and the great majority of proposals delivered to us through the years have dealt with the government’s domain – what it specifically can do and how it is done, more or less the background operations of state government.


Throwing a proposal out there that in a way could define, if not expand, the role of government and also impose responsibilities upon the private sector and citizens is unusual but in no way is it unique.


Our state Constitution, much like the Constitution of the United States of America, has its own Bill of Rights (which is the aforementioned Article 1). These are rights and obligations that government, and the people, must recognize and protect, things that must be identified and appreciated outside the realm of the government’s inner and outer workings.


Article 1 has expanded, and even shrunk, quite a few times throughout the Empire State’s history. It now contains 15 items, things that you would expect in a Bill of Rights (like trial by jury and the freedoms of worship and speech) and others that you probably wouldn’t (such as a right to bingo, betting on horse races, divorce, and workers’ compensation).


So, given that scope that’s considerably wider than that of our federal amendments, this question about the environment isn’t much of a stretch.


Philosophically, many people would agree with the premise that we all deserve a clean environment.


That carries special meaning here in Niagara County, with our lands, waterways, and air tainted by decades, if not two centuries, of abuse. There are the legacies of the Love Canal and Manhattan Project, for example, and fish so laden with poisons that few, and sometimes none, should be eaten, even though we possess some of the best freshwater angling in the whole world. Plus, there are the pockets within communities across the region that have incredibly high cancer rates and prevalence of other illnesses that speak to something in the water or soil rather than some random unlucky coincidence.  


It would be nice to ensure that future generations of New Yorkers (man and beast alike) aren’t subjected to such abuses and outcomes. We here are blessed with some of the finest natural wonders in Creation – the Great Lakes; Niagara Falls; the Adirondack, Allegany and Catskill Mountains; the Finger Lakes. They need to be protected and preserved, not spoiled or irreparably harmed, and the damage already done to them needs to be reversed.   


Practically, though, this proposal could pose a different story to some voters.


That’s because this question arises: What exactly will this simple amendment do to society and the economy?


Depending on how extreme a person, legislator, or judge could go, the brevity of the language of the right leaves much for interpretation. Could it become criminal to heat your home with firewood? Could the State, without regress, decide that any manufacturer is unclean and demand their closure or exit from the state? What will local governments have to instate to ensure their operations, homes, and businesses are “clean”? Is it possible that agricultural pesticides and fertilizer use will be squashed?


Under this amendment’s power, it wouldn’t be out of the question that the rest of the state begins to gradually mirror how the Adirondacks are run, where the Adirondack Park Agency oversees and micromanages every nuance of progress, deciding who can put docks in the water and how, what trees can be removed, and what first responders deserve to put up emergency communication towers. Sure, it has preserved the Park, but is that hard approach feasible – environmentally, socially, and economically -- elsewhere?  


So, there you go.


There are two sides to every story.


And, there are two sides to this proposal….two very distinct sides with entirely different possible outcomes.  


Your choice at the polls should be based on what your individual vision is for the future of New York and your children and grandchildren. Never tread lightly when deciding an inclusion or exclusion to the Bill of Rights; it mean so much in so many different ways, for so long.  



From the 11 October 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News