November 6, 2017

Turn It Over on Tuesday - 2017 Edition

Hey New Yorkers -- don't forget to #TurnItOver on Tuesday!

Again this year, we'll have some ballot initiatives to consider when we go to the polls on Tuesday. (You did remember that it's time to vote again, right? Right?!)

Here's what's on the back of the ballot for all New Yorkers:
The New York State Constitution requires that every 20 years the people decide if a Constitutional Convention should be held to consider amendments to the State Constitution. The purpose of this Ballot Question is to allow the voters of New York State to determine whether a Constitutional Convention will be held in 2019.  
If a majority voting on this Question votes NO, there will be no Constitutional Convention 
If a majority votes YES, three delegates from each state senatorial district and 15 at-large statewide delegates will be elected in November 2018. The delegates will convene at the Capitol in April 2019. Amendments adopted by a majority of the delegates will be submitted to the voters for approval or rejection in a statewide referendum to be held at least six weeks after the Convention adjourns. The delegates will determine whether to submit proposed amendments as separate questions. Any amendments that the voters approve will go into effect on the January 1 following their approval. 
If a majority votes in favor of a Constitutional Convention, then the delegates will receive for their services the same compensation as that payable to Members of the Assembly. The delegates also will be reimbursed for actual traveling expenses while the Convention is in session, to the extent that Members of the Assembly would be entitled reimbursement during a session of the Legislature. 
The delegates will have the power to appoint the officers, employees and assistants that they deem necessary and to fix the compensation of those officers, employees and assistants. The delegates also will have the power to provide for the expenses of the Convention, including printing of its documents, journal and proceedings. The delegates will determine the rules of their proceedings, choose their officers, and be the judge of the election, returns and qualifications of their members. A vacancy in an office of district delegate will be filled by a vote of the remaining delegates representing the district in which the vacancy occurs; a vacancy in the office of a delegate-at-large will be filled by a vote of the remaining delegates-at-large.
  • Proposal 2, Pension Forfeiture for Convicted Officials Amendment (2017). "The proposed amendment to section 7 of  Article 2 of the State Constitution would allow a court to reduce or revoke the public pension of a public officer who is convicted of a felony that has a direct and actual relationship to the performance of the public officer's existing duties.  Shall the proposed amendment be approved?"
New York's Constitution now provides that the benefits of a public pension or retirement system cannot be reduced or impaired. The purpose of the proposed amendment is to allow a court to reduce or revoke the public pension of a public officer who is convicted of a felony that has a direct and actual relationship to the performance of the public officer's existing 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. In reaching this determination, the court must consider factors including the seriousness of the public officer's crime, the proportionality of a reduction or revocation to the crime, whether forfeiture would result in undue hardship or other inequity to dependent children, spouse, or other dependents, and any other factors provided by the Legislature. The Legislature must enact law that puts this provision into effect, taking into account principles of fairness.  
The proposed amendment would define "public officer" to mean the following: an official filling an elected office within New York; a person holding an office that is filled by appointment by the New York Governor, whether or not that appointment has to be confirmed by the Senate: a county, city, town, or village administrator, manager or equivalent position; the head of any state or local government department, division, board, commission, bureau, public benefit corporation, or public authority in New York who is vested with authority, direction, and control over that entity; the chief fiscal officer or treasurer of a municipal corporation or political subdivision in New York; a judge or justice of the Unified Court System; and a legislative, executive or judicial employee who directly assists in the formulation of legislation, rules, regulations, policy, or judicial decision-making and who is designated by law as a policy-maker.
If approved, the amendment will apply only to crimes committed on or after January 1, 2018. 
  • Proposal 3, Forest Preserve Land Bank Amendment (2017).  "The proposed amendment will create a land account with up to 250 acres of forest preserve land eligible for use by towns,villages and counties that have no viable alternative to using forest preserve land to address specific public health and safety concerns; as a substitute for the land removed from the forest preserve, another 250 acres of land, will be added to the forest preserve, subject to legislative approval. The proposed amendment also will allow bicycle trails and certain public utility lines to be located within the width specified highways that cross the forest preserve while minimizing removal of trees and vegetation. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?"
New York State's Constitution protects the State's forest preserve as wild forest land and generally prohibits the lease, sale, exchange or taking of any forest preserve land. The proposed amendment will create two new exceptions to this broad protection of the forest preserve to make it easier for municipalities to undertake certain health and safety projects. 
 First, the proposed amendment will create a land account of up to 250 acres of forest preserve land. A town, village or county can apply to the land account if it has no viable alternative to using forest preserve land for specified health and safety purposes. These purposes are (1) to address bridge hazards or safety on specified highways; (2) to eliminate the hazards of dangerous curves and grades on specified highways; (3) to relocate, reconstruct, and maintain highways; and (4) for water wells and necessary related accessories located within 530 feed of a specified highway, where needed to meet drinking water quality standards. The State will acquire 250 acres to add to the forest preserve to replace the land placed in the health and safety land account, subject to approval by the Legislature. 
Second, the proposed amendment will allow bicycle paths and types of public utility lines to be located within the widths of specified highways that cross forest preserve land. The work on the bicycle paths and utility lines must minimize the removal of trees and vegetation. The proposed amendment will allow a stabilization device (such as a guy wire) for an existing utility pole to be located near the width of a highway when necessary to ensure public health and safety and when no other viable option exists. The proposed amendment prohibits the construction of a new intrastate gas or oil pipeline that did not receive necessary state and local permits and approvals by June 1, 2016. 
The Ballotopedia links I've included for each of the three statewide initiatives provide e a ton of helpful information, including who has lined up in favor and opposed; how well organized the two sides are; how much money has been raised; and what the possible benefits and ramifications are if the proposals pass. I encourage you to review the information, particularly on Proposal 1, which is the most contentious of the three.

In addition, for those of us here in Onondaga County, there's one more.
  • Shall there be approved in Onondaga County, Local Law No___-2017, entitled, "A Local Law Amending the Onondaga County Charter and Administrative Code Regarding the Onondaga County Department . of Correction," playing the Onondaga County Department of Corrections under the control of the Sheriff?
Why are we talking about this one?  
  • Onondaga County is the only county in  New York that still has divided responsibility over pretrial and post-conviction incarceration oversight. Here, the sheriff's office has responsibility for the Justice Center Jail (where prisoners awaiting trial are held) but not the county's penitentiary, which is where convicted criminals are housed. 
  • In addition to being the only one who does it goofy, we could save some money here, we're told; if the sheriff controlled all of the cells, we'd have better control over making sure we don't have empty cells in one facility but overcrowding in the other, which has caused us to pay to house them in facilities outside the county.
  • And, of course, because we're looking at consolidation in government (as opposed to a takeover of the city by the county) and this one seems like a no-brainer for the county. 
Remember -- Be sure to #TurnItOver tomorrow when (not if, when) you vote!