Authors Posts by Nancy Marr

Nancy Marr

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Photo from Smithtown Library Facebook

By Nancy Marr

As a trustee of my local library, I signed up for a training  about “ALA and Sustainability” given by the American Library Association. What I learned was that the ALA at its Annual Conference in 2015 passed a resolution noting that libraries play an important and unique role in wider community communications about resilience, climate change and a sustainable future. 

A resolution for the Adoption of Sustainability as a Core Value of Librarianship was adopted in 2019, stating “To be truly sustainable, an organization or community must embody practices that are environmentally sound AND economically feasible AND socially equitable. 

In adopting sustainability as a core value of librarianship, ALA recognizes the findings of the UN that the immediate consequences of climate change are far more dire than originally predicted. Libraries today should play a large role in informing and involving the public in actions to transform our local economies to reduce carbon emissions by learning about renewable energy efforts being created locally, by involving residents in efforts to reuse and repair our recyclables, and by sponsoring programs to explain the circular economy that would reduce our waste. 

Libraries with youth members could involve them at an early age in activities to reduce waste. For patrons who have questions about climate change, and what it really is, the library is a good place to offer speakers or materials to help them learn more. 

Libraries that demonstrate good stewardship of the resources entrusted to them will build community support that leads to sustainable funding. Indeed, most of our local libraries are seen as strong and authentic and rely on an annual vote by community residents. Making choices about their building management can also set an example about the need to reduce carbon emissions and how to do it. 

A resolution passed in 2015 noted that libraries play a unique role. They are often positioned to reach residents throughout the community and can offer programs to meet the needs of all residents, depending on the time of day that is most convenient, and what language is appropriate. Library patrons can address environmental injustice conditions in their community and learn from other patrons or library staff how to address the issues and encourage the civic participation with others. 

Libraries have been known as a place to borrow books. Today, they provide access also to connections to computers, research and referral topics, and information from diverse sources about many topics as well as groups to explore activities, often with instruction or materials provided by the library. For children, the ALA Round Table Book List includes children’s books on nature, health, conservation, and communities that reflect the mission “to exchange ideas and opportunities regarding sustainability in order to move toward a  more equitable, healthy, and economically viable society.” 

Can libraries accomplish these goals? In fact, many local libraries have begun to do so. They offer a wide range of talks, activities, and displays to answer patrons’ questions or broaden their expertise. Some sponsor “carbon crews,” which are small groups of residents working toward reducing their carbon footprints with support from a leader and other members. Some have started “repair cafes” where patrons can get help from other patrons to fix items they want to keep using.  

The Suffolk Cooperative Library System has shown the way. Between 2016 and 2023, the system reduced the cost of its electricity consumption by 76.8%. It has calculated the reduction of its use of energy by 85.4% by changing to LED lighting, turning lights off automatically, regularly maintaining of the HVAC system, and improved insulation and auto-sleep settings on computers and copiers and the conversion to laptops, as well as the purchase of solar panels. Local Suffolk libraries that are enrolled in the ALA’s Sustainable Library Certification Program get recognized and are encouraged to host a certification ceremony for the community.

Learn about programs your library sponsors to reduce your  community’s carbon footprint. If you have suggestions for library programs, contact your library administration. 

Nancy Marr is Vice-President of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County.

METRO photo

By Nancy Marr

Food is one of the more important factors in our lives. Food insecurity troubles many Americans, but for low-income consumers, especially, factors beyond their control affect their nutrition. Many low-income consumers can find lower prices, but consumers with very low incomes may not be able to get to stores that offer these low prices or fresh foods. 

Here in Suffolk County, both school and summer feeding programs funded by the Department of Agriculture are making a difference by providing nutritious food for children from homes with food insecurity.  

School lunch in America dates back to the late 19th century, when the passage of compulsory education laws and child-labor bans led to more kids in school for more hours per day than ever before. Health screenings in schools gave rise to concerns about malnutrition, which in turn sparked privately funded nutritious school meal programs in many cities. The programs were popular, but most were wiped out by the Great Depression. 

In 1946, the federal government passed the National School Lunch Act which provided a way for the USDA to purchase surplus agricultural commodities for use by the schools in the feeding programs they agreed to fund.

The act created a three-tiered system: children in poverty received a free lunch, children whose families were above the poverty line but earning less than 130% of the federal poverty line got a price reduction, and everyone else paid full price. Millions of children have participated in the program. 

The Federal USDA now funds the following child nutrition programs: the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Summer Food Service Program, and After-School Snacks and Meals, using the same distribution system.

During the recent pandemic, when schools closed, the federal government funding made it possible for schools to continue the lunch program and changed it to one that served all the children at no charge. Schools arranged for the pick-up of lunches by the students. The USDA pandemic funding ended in June 2022, with an extension through the summer of 2022. 

Schools and summer lunch providers then returned to the payment schedule that divided the children. The universal offering of free meals to all students had raised the level of participation by removing the stigma often associated with means-tested school meals and opened the program to children from families who would have struggled to pay the reduced-price copayment. 

But so far, there’s no momentum in Congress to bring the free meals back, except for the CEP Program (Community Eligibility Provision) which provides breakfast and lunch free of charge to all the students who are enrolled. Eligible for CEP is any district or school with 25 percent of students who have been identified as in need, and children who are certified for free meals without an application because they are homeless, migrant, enrolled in Head Start, or in foster care.

Food policy councils, appointed by local government or organized independently of government, have proven to be effective in educating community members about local food and nutrition, as well as other issues related to health, such as walkability. 

The funding during the pandemic showed how universal feeding encouraged children to participate in a nutritionally sound breakfast and lunch program which provided free food for all children. Federal or New York State funding would make that possible. For more information, go to www.schoolnutrition.org.

And write to Governor Hochul and your State Senator and Assemblyperson, and our United States senators, Senator Charles Schumer and  Kirsten Gillibrand. 

Nancy Marr is Vice-President of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county or call 631-862-6860.

By Nancy Marr

An Equal Rights Amendment for the United States was first drafted in 1923 by two leaders of the women’s suffrage movement, Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman, who believed that the ERA was the next logical step following the campaign to win access to the ballot. 

While the text of the amendment has changed over the years, its focus has remained the same. Article V of the U.S. Constitution requires that a proposed amendment be passed by the Senate and the House in a two-thirds majority in two consecutive legislative sessions in order to be sent to the states for ratification by their legislatures or conventions. 

The version approved by Congress in 1972 and sent to the states with a deadline of 1979 reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.” Although the deadline was extended to 1982, only 37 of the required 38 states ratified the amendment. 

Opposition to it came from conservative Phyllis Schlafly, saying it would require women to serve in the military or lose protections for alimony or child custody cases. The result? Five states voted to revoke their ratifications, but these reversals were not counted as part of the result, and the count of ratifications remained at 37. The amendment was not passed.

In the absence of a national equal rights law, the constitutions of twenty-five states now do provide guarantees of equal rights on the basis of sex. The New York State Legislature, in 2022 and 2023, passed an ERA bill that has looked further. Currently, our state constitution only protects against racial and religious discrimination. 

The proposed bill would protect all those who have been discriminated against based on ethnicity, national origin, disability, age, and sex, including sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, and a person’s reproductive autonomy or access to reproductive care. The new ERA bill explicitly includes language to clarify that discrimination based on a person’s pregnancy or pregnancy outcomes would be sex discrimination, protecting women from punishment. It will also ensure comprehensive and inclusive equal protection that will guard against attacks on our rights from the federal government or federal judges, including threats to the legal equality of LGBTQ1+ people.  

Do we need protection if the Fourteenth Amendment already guarantees equal protection of the laws? The Fourteenth Amendment, passed in 1868, added the word “male” to the Constitution but failed to include women in the right to vote. The proposed New York State ERA is not “a women’s equality amendment” but seeks to protect women as a class and men as a class against discrimination under the law for any reason. 

The Brennan Center has commented that the amendment process is an ineffective way to correct shortcomings in our United States Constitution. Given the difficulties and delays that have been faced by those who have fought for amendments, is our Constitution unamendable?  

Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD) is the leading constitutional scholar serving in Congress today. Reflecting on the progressive activism that “built the modern Constitution,” Raskin urges reform-minded Americans to shed their fear of advancing reform through Article V. “It’s a betrayal of our history if we don’t talk about amending the Constitution in order to create a more perfect union,” he says. “We need to be planting flags in the unfolding history of democracy. That’s what the constitutional amendment process is all about.”

Voting to amend the New York State Constitution with the New York State ERA will provide protection for New Yorkers who have faced discrimination through the years. Make a plan to turn your 2024 ballot over and vote yes on the proposed amendment.  

Nancy Marr is Vice-President of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. Visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

County Executive Steve Bellone during a press conference in Hauppauge. Photo from Suffolk County

By Nancy Marr

Following the death of George Floyd, Governor Andrew Cuomo in June of 2020 issued Directive 203, requiring all NYS counties to write a plan to reform the policies of their police departments by April 21, 2021.

In September 2020,  Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced the formation of a task force, saying “The development of the comprehensive policing plan…will help us build on the progress we have made and implement strategies that will improve policing.” 

In addition to ten task force meetings, ten listening sessions were held throughout the county, in 2020 and 296 community members offered community input. In March 2021 the plan was approved by the Legislature. In December 2021, the Legislature codified the plan to give the Human Rights Commission the responsibility for providing citizen review; and it was submitted to the Governor on April 1. The reform and reinvention plan focuses on the following:

Training and Continuing Education — enhanced accountability through the use of body cameras, training in de-escalation, implicit bias,  the duty to intervene, and integrating community-based organizations into academic training for all police. 

Mental Health Response — the plan calls for overhauling the police department’s mental health response, and collaborating with mental health partners. A 911 operator answering a call will speak to the caller to “assess the nature of the service needed.” If there is no emergency or safety concern, the call will be transferred to a behavioral health center. If the operator concludes that there is a risk to the safety of persons, a contact will be made to a Mobile Crisis Team and the SCPD.

Police Accountability and Citizen Review of SCPD — A key provision of the Suffolk reform plan is civilian oversight of the SCPD through the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission’s Administration of Justice Committee (AOJ). In January 2022, during the pandemic, the Human Rights Commission began the long task of implementing the citizen review panel, exploring and selecting a platform for the submission portal and hiring new staff. After training the investigators and commissioners for their new roles, it went live in March 2023. 

Prior to the reform, residents making complaints would contact the Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) of the Police Department which was responsible for investigating and responding to the complaints. A complaint may now also be filed with the Human Rights Commission through its online portal by phone or on line. 

The HRC Executive Director and investigators are provided with an IAB case file number, and HRC investigators  review police misconduct investigations in tandem with IAB by means of access to a shared date portal, Axon Evidence. The HRC investigators review cases on a daily basis, and the HRC Executive Director provides a general update on the complaints at monthly meetings.

Prior to a final determination of the complaint, IAB will share its recommendation  with the HRC investigators. If the IAB and HRC cannot agree on the final disposition, HRC can notify the Deputy Police Commissioner and/or the County Executive Police Accountability Liaison, who facilitates conversations between members of the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD), SCPD Internal Affairs Bureau, and Human Rights Commission to resolve discrepancies in decisions. 

It remains to be seen how a serious disagreement would be solved. Once the disposition is finalized, the Human Rights investigator and/or the police department shares with the complainant the final determination and actions to be taken. Complainants will be able to call Suffolk 311 to be connected directly to the unit.

Information is being compiled by the HRC Committee regarding the public’s experiences with the SCPD and the investigation process in order to monitor how much progress has been made to foster a positive relationship between the SCPD and the public. It is important that all Suffolk County residents know how complaints are made. Go to the HRC portal, https://suffolkcountyny.siviltech.com/, for a complaint form and a breakdown of the complaints made in 2023.

We will be looking for a report from the Commission about whether the process has been effective and recommend that our new County Executive will select a new police commissioner who will continue to implement the reforms. 

Nancy Marr is Vice-President of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. Visit  www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

Stock photo

By Nancy Marr

Voting is a fundamental act of civic participation. It is one important way that young people can engage in civic life.  It is also a powerful way that young people can make their voices heard and have an impact on issues that affect them. Historically young people have voted at lower rates than older adults, but that is beginning to change. To understand the changes, we studied a survey of students from five Suffolk school districts. The sample of students who returned the survey gives us some idea also of what strategies might work to increase their engagement.

Of the 242 surveys returned, 36.4% reported that they had already registered. Of these, the largest percentage, 51.5% had registered in school and 25.7% had registered at the DMV. Moreover, of those not already registered, 64% reported that they plan to register by the time they are 18 and know how and where to register.

When asked whether they have a plan for voting, 79.3% reported that they are most likely to cast their vote on Election Day at their polling place, probably continuing a practice they learned from their family, 8.7% expect to use an absentee ballot and 23% plan to vote during early voting.

Concerns with national issues were interesting; the survey form asked them to choose five, and offered 17 possibilities. Most students chose the economy, followed by gun control Next came inflation, environment, racial inequality and abortion. The other choices offered (each selected by smaller numbers of students) were economic inequality, jobs, foreign policy, health and COVID, mental health, immigration, women’s right to choose, education, democracy at risk, and health insurance.

Of the 237 students who answered the question of whether they have registered or would register for a political party, 38.4% said yes, 21.9% said no, and 39.7% were unsure.  Asked if they considered themselves to be politically engaged or politically active, 26.4% said they did. Only 15.8% had attended a political rally or demonstration.

The 242 students (as self-described) were a diverse group.

Age — 53% 17 years old, 25% 18, 15% 20, 6.1% 19

Race — 32% Hispanic, 26% white/Caucasian, 19% mixed race, 8% African American, 7% Asian, 2% Native American

Language — 65% English, 25% Spanish, 6% other

Gender — 52% Female, 46% Male, 1.5% Non-binary, 0.5% Queer

Many youth are concerned about the low turnout. Ruby Belle Booth, a member of the Circle Program (Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) at Tufts College, hosted a podcast called Why Gen-Z Activism Isn’t Reflected in Voter Turnout produced by radio station KALW, in California. “Although 23% of youth are voting at higher levels than in the past, they are voting at a lower percentage than that of older groups,” said Booth, adding “that means that over 75% did not vote. Are they politically disengaged, overwhelmed by the voting process, lazy?”

She found that in states like California, which has made voting convenient, the turnout is higher. Policies like automatic voting or same day registration, online voter registration and vote by mail all help young people vote. Efforts by schools to register and preregister students provide information to help voters find their way.

In addition to logistics, a huge barrier is lack of confidence. Research has shown that over half of young people ages 18 to 29 do not feel they are qualified to make decisions about candidates, especially when they don’t trust the system, feel the candidates are not qualified, or believe that the parties are not addressing their concerns, particularly in local elections.

The Circle Program research recommends that we make the process of voting an integral part of the educational curriculum for students from K-12 through college. By creating civic engagement opportunities for young people in school, in local youth advisory councils, we can help  Gen-Z turn into a generation of future voters.

Before Election Day this year, let first time voters know they can register through October 28, and find out about their races and candidates from the League of Women Voters’ Vote411.org and other organizations (Voter Hub, run by Gen-Z for Change on Tik Tok and VoteNow). 

Nancy Marr is Vice-President of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. Visit  www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

METRO photo

By Nancy Marr

Our local governments have long supported child care programs, but the high cost of child care and the low incomes of many of the parents who rely on it have made it unsustainable. There is a growing plea for a universal child care system, where every child has access to high quality care.

Ideas about child care have changed dramatically through the years. For many years, women were expected to stay at home and care for their children. By the nineteenth century, many women found they had to work outside their homes to support their families. In 1935, Jane Addams at Hull House, seeing the pressure on widows and other low-income mothers to find outside work, advocated for widows’ and mothers’ pensions to make it possible for single mothers to care for their children at home, but many mothers still had to look for work.

President John F. Kennedy, speaking  to the Intercity Child Care Conference in 1963, said he believed that “we must take further steps to encourage day care programs that will protect our children and provide them with a basis for a full life in later years. Day care programs can not only help women who decide to work outside the home but also serve as a developmental boon to children and help advance social and racial integration.”

Because of its current structure, the American child care system has been divided along class lines, making it difficult for parents to unite and lobby for improved services for all children. The New York State Conference on Child Care Availability, in its report in 2021, described its goal of a universal child care system fully funded to provide care and learning skills for all children. Kathy Hochul, when she was Lieutenant Governor, said to the Conference, “The conversation on child care is changing. No longer is it seen as a woman’s responsibility. It is an essential service for families and their employers.”

Today there is recognition that affordable and high-quality child care is not only vital for working families, it is also essential to the state’s economy; it needs sustained investment to make it a public good that serves all families.

Providing child care is expensive: the average cost of care in Suffolk is $13,000-$18,000 per year depending on the age of the child, with infant and toddler care being the most expensive. Government subsidies for low-income families are insufficient. Fewer than 10% of eligible parents are currently receiving subsidies in New York State. Staff salaries, typically $15/hour in Suffolk, are inadequate for workforce retention, causing high turnover and difficulty filling positions with qualified candidates.  

According to Mary Cain, Executive Director for Stony Brook Child Care Services, Inc., “Hiring qualified early childhood teaching staff has always been very challenging especially after the pandemic. Now although New York State is investing in and supporting families in need of child care, SBCC has had to reduce enrollment, creating a longer wait time for families needing to enroll their children. In addition, we have had to reduce our operating hours, which also limits families’ access to much needed child care.

Jennifer Rojas, Executive Director of the Child Care Council of Suffolk, stated: “Child care is so important for working families, yet the child care system is in a crisis, making it harder to recruit and retain staff. Without a significant change in how we as a state and county support the child care system, it will continue to get harder for Suffolk County families to find appropriate child care. We need sustainable and meaningful investments that will make child care affordable for all families and ensure that the child care workforce is appropriately compensated and supported.” 

Read more in the New York State Special Task Force report “Supporting Families, Employers & New York’s Future: An Action Plan for a Strong and Equitable Child Care System” at https://ocfs.ny.gov/reports/childcare/Child-Care-Availability-Task-Force-Report.pdf  

Contact your NYS Senator and Assemblyman to thank them for their support for funding but let them know that more is needed to restore full staffing and deliver quality care.  

Nancy Marr is Vice-President of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

METRO photo

By Nancy Marr

Long Island is the largest community in New York State without comprehensive, professional water management and oversight. But there is good news! The New York State budget in 2023 has authorized the creation of a water management agency by Suffolk County; it must be approved by the voters in November.

Long Island’s water supply, the groundwater stored beneath Long Island in three aquifers, is limited. Moreover, unlike oil or natural gas deposits, water is the only resource we extract from nature for which there is no substitute.

Today, while water use in many parts of the US is decreasing due to higher prices and the shortage of available water, water use on Long Island continues to grow due to an increasing population, larger homes, in-ground lawn watering systems, and more water-using features in our homes, allowing our water supply to become depleted. It is also polluted by nitrogen; improper waste management from our sewers and septic systems is responsible for 75% of the nitrogen in the water.

Unfortunately, the polluted groundwater harms aquatic life, especially shellfish. High levels of nitrogen increase aquatic plant growth, producing dead zones where the levels of oxygen are so low that aquatic life cannot survive (known as hypoxia). It has reduced our quality of life by closing our beaches, and affects the businesses dependent on fishing, boating, and recreation.

Widespread concern about our waterways and our drinking water has led to action. In 2017, New York State appropriated funds to develop the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan that assembled data to address common issues and management strategies, relying on local input and involving the many environmental, agricultural, tribal, and academic organizations concerned. 

Stony Brook University established the Center for Clean Water Technology, and the NYS DEC initiated the Climate Smart Communities program to encourage municipalities to demonstrate various levels of commitment to climate-smart activities. Suffolk County has worked to transition homes and businesses from conventional septic systems to the new advanced wastewater treatment systems which are designed to remove nitrogen from wastewater before it is discharged to groundwater. 

The new legislation will allow Suffolk County to consolidate its 27 sewer districts into one district. (This will not affect sewer districts owned and operated by towns, such as Riverhead and Calverton, or those owned by villages.) There are no county sewer districts in the five East End towns. It is now up to the County Legislature to establish the new countywide wastewater management district by local law and authorize the new district to collect charges, rates, and taxes. The state legislation also approved an additional 1/8 of a cent addition to the county sales tax, which must be approved by the voters in the November elections. The funds can be used for the maintenance of the systems and can make it easier to purchase the new advanced treatment systems.

We need to stop using fertilizer on our lawns, and replace the cesspools and old septic systems responsible for dispersing nitrogen and medical waste into the waters around Long Island. It is recommended that the sewering of homes be increased, but with ways to discharge the effluent on land rather than in the ocean or bays. 

A most important corrective action has been seeding the shellfish and oysters that clean the water by filtering the organic particulates. This natural method of restoring the bays and waterways also supports training, the creation of small businesses, and employment.

We know that voluntary actions by Suffolk residents and businesses are important to restore our waters and maintain them, but they are not sufficient. See Governor Hochul’s plan for listening sessions on the Bond Act at https://www.ny.gov/programs/clean-water-clean-air-and-green-jobs-environmental-bond-act and attend the Suffolk County session this summer on Thursday August 24 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Suffolk Federal Credit Union Arena at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood to make sure the plans for the water management agency are transparent, detailed, and fair. 

Nancy Marr is first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy.  For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

Photo from Town of Brookhaven

By Nancy Marr

There is substantial agreement among environmental groups that we want a circular economy — that is, we want to reduce waste by all means possible — by reducing, re-using, repairing, and recycling our waste — so that there is none, arriving at “zero waste.”

The DEC has just released a draft solid waste management plan designed to help New York State meet the climate goals of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, passed in 2019. It proposes reducing waste at its source, returning materials back to productive use, and diverting waste from landfills to avoid the emission of greenhouse gases, reaching a reduction of emission by 85% by 2050. The DEC has also issued rules requiring that any facility with over 25 pounds of food scraps either donate it or take it to a designated site for recycling. (Suffolk County has only one food-recycling site, so that requirement has been waived, leaving the food in the landfill.)

Because waste removal is a town responsibility, there has been no movement toward creating a county role which could be funded by the DEC, along with its role of regulating and overseeing town operations. Much of the municipal waste in Suffolk County is incinerated, with the ash deposited in landfills in the towns of Brookhaven and Babylon. Towns without landfills are sending their waste off the island to other states, using trucks with high rates of carbon fuel emission. Construction and demolition waste from building projects, and yard waste have been recycled more successfully, except for glass, which is currently part of municipal waste. It is being studied as a subject for recycling if markets can be developed for its final stage.   

A conference held recently (by the Evan R. Liblit Memorial Scholarship Committee) at Stony Brook University with speakers on waste to energy efforts, large scale organics management, and funding through the Inflation Reduction Act, ended with a roundtable of four of the town supervisors in Suffolk County and a representative from the NYS Department of Energy Conservation who welcomed the attendance of the town supervisors and commented on the unusually large number of people in attendance, showing a growing concern with the issue of waste reduction.

The town supervisors who participated in the conference — from Brookhaven, Smithtown, Islip, and Babylon — all agreed that they communicate regularly about issues of waste and are taking steps to reduce it but they said they cannot do it alone. How do we create and implement a regional or county approach? Most of the town supervisors reported that the residents of their towns are not aware of the problem and their part in it. To reduce our emissions by 2050 will require an accurate calculation of how the population is growing and the amount and nature of the waste.

Concern about the waste problem is most often expressed by residents objecting to measures taken to deal with the problem. In Smithtown the plan to utilize rail lines to move the waste to other states has met with opposition to the idea of railroad areas, despite the fact that it would reduce the emissions from trucks from the road and reduce road traffic. In Brookhaven, plans by Winters Brothers for removing ash by rail have also been opposed. How would people react to increases in garbage collection rates if more towns implement a Pay-as-You-Throw program, although many areas of the country now use it, substantially reducing the trash they pick up.

The supervisors cited successful efforts by teachers and schools to build understanding of the waste crisis, but how can we do more? 

Community groups are leading efforts to create community composting for our farmlands, open repair cafes, and create anaerobic digesters. Small groups of concerned citizens meet regularly as Carbon Crews, to learn new ways of reducing their footprints. Larger organizations, such as Beyond Plastics, have publicized the dangers of producing and burning plastics and are working on state regulations (Extended Producer Responsibility) to make producers aware of the costs to municipalities of disposing of the waste their products create. 

We can all do more, at home and away. If each of us cannot throw away less, little will be accomplished. Watch the DEC webinar to be held on April 11 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. to describe the Draft New York State Management Plan. For more information go to https://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/41831.html

Nancy Marr is vice-president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit https//my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county.

Stock photo

By Nancy Marr

At a community meeting recently I heard opposition to an IDA plan to help build a new warehouse Do we need another warehouse? Will it create jobs? And, worst of all, will there be no property tax payments, which our school district needs?

Industrial Development Agencies (IDAs) were originally authorized by New York State in 1969, governed by the provisions of 18-A of the General Municipal Law. The purpose of IDAs are to advance the job opportunities, health, general prosperity and economic welfare of the State of New York. Four to seven IDA members are appointed by the governing board of a sponsoring municipality. IDAs do not have taxing powers; they typically maintain their operations by charging fees to the businesses that participate in their projects. 

Presently there is an IDA in each NYS county, as well as a number of cities, towns, and villages. In addition to the Suffolk County IDA, there are IDAs in Babylon, Islip, Brookhaven, and Riverhead. Some of the IDAs have favored manufacturing and industrial projects, but many have supported a range of projects, including office buildings, retail establishments, education facilities, sports arenas, and projects for health and not-for-profit service organizations. 

The goal of an IDA is to help companies acquire, construct, improve, maintain or equip certain facilities. It can assist the company by bringing together resources to provide low-cost or low-interest tax exempt or taxable bonds, provide workforce training and recruitment, and help fast-track the permit process. The greater incentive offered by IDA acceptance is the ability to be exempt from local property taxes, state and local sales tax, and the mortgage recording tax. By agreement, the company transfers the title of its land and equipment to the Agency (the IDA); the Agency then agrees to lease the land and equipment to the company which completes the project. When the project is completed by the company, the title is returned to the company and it becomes the legal owner.

In order to minimize the impact of the property tax abatement, the IDA writes a contract with the company for a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes). The amount of the PILOT is set at a rate lower than the property tax, with few or no payments due for the first five years (leaving the school district short).The amount is graduated by a set percentage over the duration of the contract (up to twenty years); at the end the tax paid by the company will be what would be the full amount if not abated. (According to a state law passed in 1993, each IDA must establish a uniform tax exemption policy with input from affected tax jurisdictions.) 

Regulations have sought to improve accountability by requiring that all IDAs file audited annual financial statements giving data about assistance given and jobs created. An IDA Reform bill became law in 2022 to counteract the “friendly” culture of everyday corruption that the legislators found. It included bills to prevent conflicts of interest, unethical profiting by government officials, failure to give public notice of the approval of  projects over $100,000, and required a “clawback;” the recapture of previously granted benefits if job creation and retention goals or other terms of the agreement were not met. 

Although there is the concern that IDA assistance may have been granted to applicants who could have completed their projects without needing help, the IDAs have helped to create a wide variety of projects, remaining in Suffolk or coming to Suffolk from other places. They have helped developers create or expand a variety of businesses, from technical and chemical innovators to health and housing facilities. Because of the requirement that the projects must create new jobs, and retain existing employees, the IDAs help with workforce training and recruitment. All new jobs must follow fair labor laws and by law must be publicized through the Department of Labor, reaching applicants who are under-employed.

Suffolk’s IDA website suffolkida.org can be helpful in familiarizing taxpayers with successful (and sometimes controversial) projects. Town websites, such as brookhavenida.org, have lists of projects  and copies of applications, agreements and resolutions. IDA public hearings are open to learn more about decisions. We can also lobby NYS elected officials to encourage and support new legislation concerning the loss of income for schools. 

Nancy Marr is vice-president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit https//my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county. 

United States Supreme Court. Pixabay photo

By Nancy Marr

In December of this year, the case Moore v. Harper is scheduled for argument before the Supreme Court of the United States. Its decision will resolve whether there is a doctrine of constitutional interpretation known as the “independent state legislature” which would give state legislatures unreviewable power to redraw congressional districts and appoint state electors who cast votes for president and vice-president. It would remove the power from state courts, including the state’s highest court, to invalidate gerrymandered congressional districts drawn by state legislatures. 

The history

On November 4, 2021, the North Carolina General Assembly adopted a new congressional voting map based on 2020 Census data. The legislature, at that time, was controlled by the Republican Party and the gerrymandering was so extreme that an evenly divided popular vote would have awarded ten seats to ten Republicans and only four to the Democrats. According to the Brennan Center, the map was a statistical outlier more favorable to Republicans than 99.9999% of all possible maps.

In 2019 in Rucho v. Common Cause,  the Supreme Court held that federal courts lack jurisdiction to resolve claims of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering because there is no prohibition of partisan districting in the U. S. Constitution. 

Subsequently, in the case Harper v. Hall (2022), a group of voters and nonprofit organizations affiliated with the Democratic Party challenged the North Carolina map in state court, alleging that the new map was a partisan gerrymander and violated the state constitution. 

In February 2022, the North Carolina Supreme Court agreed with voters and struck down the map, describing it as an “egregious and intentional partisan gerrymander designed to enhance Republican performance, and thereby gave a greater voice to those voters than to any others.”

The unrepentant legislature then proposed a second gerrymandered map, prompting a state court to  order a special master to create a fair map for the 2022 congressional elections. Unwilling to accept this outcome, two Republican legislators asked the U. S. Supreme Court to step in and reinstate their gerrymandered map.

In March, the Supreme Court rejected the legislature’s emergency appeal to put the gerrymander back in place. At the urging of four of the justices, the legislators filed a regular appeal, asking the court to review the case. In June, the Court agreed to do so. 

The issue 

In urging the Supreme Court to reinstate the gerrymandered congressional map, the North Carolina legislators were relying on a reading of the U.S. Constitution’s Election Clause known as the independent state legislature theory (ISL). The Election Clause (ARTICLE 1, SECTION 4) reads: The times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations…

Section 5 reads: Each House shall be the judge of the elections, terms and qualifications of its own members.

Proponents of the ISL theory reason that the Elections Clause gives state legislators exclusive authority to regulate all elections. This allows them to violate the state constitution (which disallows partisan gerrymandering) when drawing congressional maps and that neither the state nor federal courts have the power to stop them. Proponents of the theory also believe it gives the state legislature control over the electors who will certify the election, as advocated by deniers of the 2020 election results.  

Opponents of the ISL theory argue that the term “legislature” does not mean solely “the legislature.” The standard interpretation of “legislature,” by groups like the bipartisan Conference of Chief Justices, means the state’s general lawmaking process, including all the normal procedures and limits. The Cato Institute, a right-leaning think-tank founded and funded by the Koch Brothers, published analyses that concluded that the ISL theory relies on a “long rejected” interpretation of the Constitution that would disrupt “settled law.”

What is next?

The Supreme Court could decide Moore without having to address the ISL theory. The immediate issue in Moore is whether the voters across the country will have judicial remedy in state court to fight partisan gerrymandering. A majority of Americans want fair maps, with representatives determined by voters, not self-interested politicians seeking personal gain. Every state should use maps that guarantee that every vote counts equally and every voice is heard. 

Nancy Marr is Vice-President of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.