Making Democracy Work

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By Lisa Scott

The new year brought the optimism of lengthening days, even as the undeniable effects of climate change frighten and yet drive the desire to “do something.” 

Nationally, January brought the commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. stopping us to think about his legacy, inspiring yet so unfulfilled more than 50 years after his death. The legions of civil rights workers, volunteers, freedom riders, protesters and women and men of all faiths, colors and origins knew that past and present wrongs could be exposed through demonstrations and civil disobedience, and then made right by law. 

And 100 years ago, after many decades of struggle, women finally won the right to vote in the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Yet the United States was born out of compromise and states’ rights, leading to today’s patterns, in many states, of voter suppression eroding the democracy we had strengthened for nearly 250 years. 

Yes, all women and men 18 and over have the constitutional right to vote. But in practice many eligible individuals don’t register, or don’t exercise their right to vote, or have that right taken away if they’ve been convicted of felonies, or are arbitrarily removed for the voting rolls, or they are gerrymandered to limit the value of their vote, etc. 

Yet voting this year, 2020, is critical; for president, for all members of the House of Representatives, and for one-third of senators. In a polarized and cacophonous political climate, what can be done to ensure a fully participatory democracy?

Meet Lisa M. La Corte, a resident of Riverhead township, who wanted to honor King as an icon for civil rights and voter engagement, and honor the suffragists and all people who risked and gave all for the right to vote in a free election. The League of Women Voters learned about someone who was riding the Patchogue-Riverhead Suffolk bus in the afternoons in January, getting passengers to register to vote. We invited her to a recent board meeting, and heard her story.

La Corte boarded the bus at the beginning of its weekday route, introduced herself to the driver, and when everyone had boarded she stood at the front and made a public announcement, introducing herself. She said she was there to help register voters and hear riders’ concerns of poor transportation for underserved communities as well as other issues. She stressed the importance of the passengers’ having their voices heard through the vote. She then walked from the front to the back asking each person individually if they were registered and if not (but eligible) she would register them then and there. 

Most passengers are shy or skeptical but La Corte perseveres. When speaking with riders who do not want to register, she reminds them that “what they want for you to not do is vote” and reminds them by staying out of the democratic process elected officials can ignore or minimize their needs and concerns. Their voices are not heard and their community exerts no pressure for change.

The challenge for someone working with communities of color, in her view, is that black and brown people have no trust in any level of government or the process in general because they have been left behind so many times. Poor people feel that they don’t count no matter what they do, resulting in a sense of hopelessness. Our fractured communities are separated by a chasm of real-life experiences; why should they participate in a system that ignores or mistreats them? Why is authority not being held accountable? Why are black and brown people incarcerated on a hugely disproportionate basis, breaking up families and communities? 

La Corte engages with all riders, whether or not they register to vote. She listens to their stories and challenges and hopes to build trust and commitment to the vote. As she said to the league, “I would love a movement that would transcend what I could ever imagine. I am but one person with ideas that hopes to inspire others. Like James Baldwin said, ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until its faced’.”  

What are you doing to ensure access to the vote for all our fellow citizens, educate them on the issues, and reestablish trust in our civic institutions and government?

Lisa Scott is 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.

Governor Andrew Cuomo signs the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act on July 18. Photo from Gov. Cuomo’s office

By Stephanie Quarles

New York State took an important step in July toward reducing our state’s “contribution” to global warming when Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. 

This comprehensive bill is the result of many years of planning by grassroots organizations with the support of Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), chair, NY Senate Committee on Environmental Conservation; Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), chair, NY Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation; and Carl Heastie (D), speaker of the Assembly. 

It sets critical environmental standards for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and for increasing the use of renewables, setting the goal of reducing emissions at 85 percent by 2050 and mandating an interim target of a 40 percent reduction from 1990 emissions by 2030. 

New York State’s commitment to climate protection has thus been established … but we need more, and soon. If not, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act will be no more than a gesture of intent. 

When the legislators return in January 2020, they will turn to the task of actually implementing the act, which will be led by a 22-member Climate Action Council composed of the heads of various New York State agencies along with members appointed by the governor, the Senate and the Assembly. The council will focus on “sectors,” such as energy, transportation and housing. 

For example, in the energy sector, the members will look at renewable energy such as offshore wind and solar. One of the things being considered in the transportation sector is encouraging electric cars. In the housing sector they will look for substitutes for cement, heating with electricity and better insulation. The Climate Action Council MUST be appointed early in 2020!

Climate change especially heightens the vulnerability of disadvantaged communities, which bear environmental and socioeconomic burdens. A bill (A01564, Peoples-Stokes, S02385, Parker) to establish a permanent Environmental Justice Advisory Group within the Department of Environmental Conservation is not yet law. The 17-member Environmental Justice Advisory Group would require state agencies to adopt and abide by effective environmental justice policies. 

Its members would represent environmental organizations from community-based organizations that advise minority low-income communities,  business representatives,  local  government representatives and  members taken from state and national organizations, educators, researchers and the general public. It prioritizes the allocation of public investments in areas with minority and low-income residents, looking toward “fair treatment” such that “no ethnic or socioeconomic group, be disproportionately exposed to pollution or bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental impact.” 

A Coordinating Council would be comprised of the heads of DEC, the Department of Transportation, the NY Power Authority and other agencies that engage in activities that impact the environment, or their designees.

Progress has been made:  The 1,4-dioxane ban and the polluter pays law are now law. But we are still waiting for the PFAS-free firefighting foam bill (A00445A, Steck, S00439A, Hoylman) to become law and for the Assembly and Senate to pass the nitrogen fertilizer bill (A04568, Englebright, S02130, Kaminsky). Keep up the pressure on your elected NYS representatives throughout their session (Jan.-June, 2020). 

None of the above laws and efforts can improve our environment and safety unless funding is established and approved. There will be the usual horse trading as the budget is negotiated in early 2020, but environmental funding is not a negotiable item. Educate yourself on the issues. Reach out to your NYS legislators and their staffs on a regular basis especially in January and February. They need to hear that their constituents are knowledgeable and persistent on climate justice issues. 

Make your voice heard on climate change legislation and action. Ask to prioritize the appointment to the Climate Action Council as well as the bill establishing the Justice Advisory Group by contacting your NYS Assembly member and senator, the majority leader of the Senate, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the speaker of the Assembly Carl Heastie and the governor. 

Visit the LWVNY webpage at https://bit.ly/36kKGEM  to find your elected officials, and  get contact information at https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county/2019-directory-public-officials. For more information about other NYS environmental legislation visit https://eany.org/our-work/bill-ratings.

Stephanie Quarles is a director 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.

By Lisa Scott

The League of Women Voters (LWV) has a longstanding non-partisan role in organizing, managing and moderating candidate debates in Suffolk County. On Oct. 21 we expanded that role by creating an alliance with the Kings Park Central School District (KPCSD) for a Suffolk County Executive debate.

In the summer we were given permission to use Kings Park High School (KPHS) auditorium, chosen for  its convenient location near the Sunken Meadow Parkway, thus appealing to both Smithtown and Huntington township voters. As the campaigns heated up in late September, LWV engaged with KPCSD Superintendent of Schools Dr. Timothy Eagen, who was most enthusiastic about establishing a true partnership between LWV and KPHS. Dr. Karen Lessler, KPHS Assistant Principal and Jack Bishop, KPHS Student Council Advisor, immediately followed up with LWV and a plan was developed that was innovative and educational for the school and the community. 

With LWV guidance on debate structure and rules, KPHS students in the National Honor Society and the Student Council worked diligently to organize the program and materials for the night of the debate. They spread word about the debate to the greater Kings Park community (including parents) and organizations, and letters were sent to local elected officials inviting them to be honored guests at the debate. They collaborated on banners both for the candidate dais as well as a welcome banner in the KPHS lobby. They created informative name cards for each of the candidates, as well as a program for all attendees with debate rules, candidate names, and details of all students speakers/topics. They also developed questions for the candidates (on index cards) which dealt with issues of importance to students. 

On the night of the debate, the students welcomed over 300 attendees. They introduced administrators, spoke about the importance of voting and read each candidate’s biography. Other students mixed with the attendees prior to the debate in the lobby, giving out programs and question cards, which were also distributed and collected in the auditorium. 

The debate itself was videotaped by Kings Park Productions, and is posted on the LWV website, www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org on the events page. Local media were present and did extensive reporting the following day. Questions asked of candidates Bellone, Fischer and Kennedy during the two hour debate covered many issues including young peoples’ challenges in finding jobs and affordable housing, vaping and the opioid crisis, school safety, the environment, especially water issues and creating more vibrant sustainable downtowns. 

A week after the debate, LWV members met with about 15 students who were involved in the debate to “de-brief.” Most students admitted that they didn’t really know much about the office, the candidates, or debates in general. Only a few considered themselves up to date on current issues or “political.” A few spoke about the importance of getting news from legitimate sources. 

Interestingly, the students were surprised that so few people showed up in a county with  1.5 million people. They also commented on how the candidates “interacted with each other” and that the “candidates didn’t directly answer the questions.” When asked whether they were surprised by the results of the election, they said no.

The KPHS students were committed to involving students from all grades so that there would be continuity. They looked forward to future debates, and thanked KPHS for their “excellent support.” It takes a village — actually a school district — to set an example of youth empowerment and engagement. 

Lisa Scott is 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 http://lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

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By Lisa Scott

Off-year elections (not congressional or presidential) tend to draw much smaller numbers of voters to the polls. In the final four weeks before Election Day 2019, it’s the 2020 presidential race that dominates the media. More people can name the prospective Democratic presidential candidates than know the races on their ballot on Tuesday, Nov. 5. 

Registered?

By the time you read this column, if you haven’t yet registered you will not be able to vote on Nov. 5 this year — but register soon if you want to vote in the 2020 primaries and general election. Use the NYS Board of Elections website: https://voterlookup.elections.ny.gov/ to see if you are registered and to see your assigned Election Day poll site.

Assuming you are registered to vote — you should be making your plan now — a plan involves deciding what day, when and where you’ll vote if you take advantage of the nine days of early voting in New York State this year. Make voting a social occasion — go with a friend and then stop for coffee, or perhaps take a child with you to the polling place and introduce her to voting.

If you choose early voting, there are 10 polling sites (one in each town in Suffolk) that you may choose from, with a variety of times to suit nearly everyone’s convenience. Details are at https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county.

Use the new voting process

The voting process will be different this year — the old poll books are being replaced by electronic tablets (similar to iPads) and electronic signature devices. Your personalized ballot will be printed immediately. You’ll go to a voting station to make your choices on the paper ballot (same as the past few years) and then insert your completed ballot into the optical scanner to cast your vote. 

It’s different and that’s one reason you should vote this year. Understand the process now and get comfortable with the new system before 2020’s federal election.

Do your homework before you go

Local media are interviewing candidates, making endorsements and planning voter guides, earlier than usual because early voting starts on Oct. 26. The League of Women Voters Education Fund developed VOTE411.org, which provides election information for each state. By entering your address (no names needed), you will find a guide to all races and candidates on your ballot. Candidates are provided tools to upload their photo, bio, experience and answer several questions on the issues. If candidates do not respond, you’ll still see their name and prospective office. 

The league (and other civic groups) will organize candidate debates prior to the election. Some groups sponsor meet and greets, others will spotlight individual candidates. The league’s best practices reflect our nonpartisan, citizen-education mission. Debates must include two candidates — we have a strict No Empty Chair policy. 

For example, in 2019 the league co-sponsored two county executive debates (Sept. 21 with NAACP and Oct. 21 with Kings Park School District) as well as many town-level debates. Candidates agree to guidelines in advance, and questions on a wide range of topics are solicited, submitted, vetted and asked by the moderators. All debates involving the league are listed at https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county/upcoming-events#debates.

You might learn something

This November, you’ll have the opportunity to vote for Suffolk County executive (four-year term) and all 18 members of the Suffolk County Legislature (two-year terms). Some town supervisors are on the ballot, as well as many town council members and other town officials such as clerk and receiver of taxes. Towns have their own laws regarding terms of office and which officials are elected vs. appointed. Judges are also on the ballot. 

By studying your ballot in advance, and following the campaigns and media reporting, you’ll know more about candidate positions on issues of importance to you and your community. Suffolk County and our 10 towns face many serious challenges: fiscal, environmental, public health, economic development and more. 

Yes, you can complain to your elected officials and advocate in the coming years, but wouldn’t it be better if you started with an informed choice and voted on Nov. 5?

Lisa Scott is 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 http://lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

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By Lisa Scott

Starting this fall, registered voters may vote early in the general election. New York has long lagged behind most of the country when it comes to voting. During this past legislative session however, many election reform bills were passed and signed into law. These new laws significantly change the way you can register and vote in New York State. Some reforms have taken effect already, some will take effect in the next year, and two are constitutional amendments that need to be passed by both houses of the Legislature after the next statewide election (2020) and then be approved by the voters.

One of the key reforms adopted this year is the provision for early voting across the state. Because off-year elections (local races, not congressional or presidential) have significantly lower turnout than for federal/state election years, early voting in 2019 will serve as a proving ground for 2020’s expected high voter turnout for president.

The Suffolk County Board of Elections (SC BOE) has chosen 10 early voting sites in the county, one site in each township. The requirement that residents of each town vote only at the site in their town, rather than give them the flexibility to vote at any of the 10 sites, has been a strong concern. However in meetings with the SC BOE, they’ve said that short lead time (due to lack of NYS regulations), required new equipment, network security and avoiding anyone casting ballots in more than one poll site were factors.

AS OF SEPTEMBER 25, 2019, THIS HAS CHANGED. According to a Suffolk County Board of Elections statement: “Early voters will be able to cast a ballot at any of Suffolk’s 10 Early Voting locations. This expansion follows the Suffolk Board of Elections’ successfully completing vast interoperability, communications and security testing of the Board’s specialized iPads at each the County’s ten polling locations. This operational testing was necessary to ensure that a voter who voted in one early polling place wasn’t able to subsequently cast a second ballot at another polling place.”

You still must be registered to vote in advance of voting early in NYS. October 11, 2019, is the last day to register to vote in person at your county Board of Elections office or to postmark your voter registration form (which should be mailed to your county BOE office). In NYS, you cannot register to vote during early voting or at the polls on Election Day.

Voting at an early voting poll site will be different from the way you have voted on Election Day. There will be electronic poll books instead of the familiar paper registration books. However, you will still be expected to sign in, receive a ballot, complete the ballot and feed the ballot into a scanner for counting. The ballot at an early voting poll site will be identical to the ballot provided on Nov. 5, Election Day.

Once you submit your ballot in person, at an early voting poll site, you cannot vote again at an early voting poll site, at your usual poll site on Election Day or by absentee ballot. Once you submit your ballot, you have completed voting and cannot change your vote.

If you are at an early voting poll site or at your usual poll site on Election Day, and your name is not in the electronic poll book, ask to complete an affidavit ballot. Make sure you are at the correct poll site for your address (either in early voting or on Election Day), and if so, do not leave without completing an affidavit ballot.

Remember that if you prefer to vote on Election Day, Nov. 5, you still must go to your usual assigned poll site to vote (not the one early voting site in your town).

Suffolk’s 10 early voting sites will be open daily, including weekends, between Oct. 26 and Nov. 3, 2019. All sites will have the same hours, but those hours will be different each day to accommodate voters’ schedules. All 10 early voting sites are handicap-accessible. There is no early voting on Monday, Nov. 4.

For a list of the 10 early voting sites in Suffolk (which are subject to change) and their hours, call the SC BOE at 631-852-4500 or check its website https://www.suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/BOE/Early-Voting-Information.

Lisa Scott is 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 http://lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

Please note: This article was updated on Sept. 27. 

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By Nancy Marr

Each Election Day we have the opportunity to vote for the candidates we think are best for our communities.

This Nov. 5, candidates will be on the ballot for positions as Suffolk County executive and legislators in each of the 18 county legislative districts. The county executive manages and supervises the county’s departments and agencies, establishing the efficiency and effectiveness of county government — setting policy, standards, goals and objectives and hiring and evaluating the performance of county management personnel.

As manager of the county finances, the county executive creates and presents an annual budget to the Legislature. He or she represents the county at meetings, forums and intergovernmental relations with other levels of government. To learn more about the county executive, call to make an appointment with a staff member to discuss an issue of concern to you and ask what the executive can do about it.

The Suffolk County Legislature consists of 18 legislative districts, each of which elects a representative every two years. (Every 10 years, after each census is tallied, the districts are redrawn according to the redistribution of the population.) The Legislature is the elected body responsible for public health and public safety. Its presiding officer appoints the members and chairs of committees.

There are currently 12 committees, each one dealing with a different subject – health, economic development, transportation, etc. The members, schedule and agendas for meetings of the Legislature are on the county website at www.scnylegislature.us/. Committee meetings are held the week before the general meetings, and the public may attend and address the committee. A call to the chairperson of the committee you wish to visit may open up a line of communication.

When a bill is proposed, it is assigned to a committee which brings in experts to inform committee members, listens to testimony from concerned citizens and votes on it. If a bill is passed through the committee, it will move to the agenda of the next general meeting for consideration by the full Legislature.

Both the Suffolk County executive and the 18 Suffolk County legislator positions are term-limited. Each can serve up to 12 years (three 4-year terms for the county executive, and six 2-year terms for the legislators). Consult the League of Women Voter’s Directory of Public Officials at www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org/files/2019DPO_web_6-23-19.pdf for information on the 2019 officeholders and their contact details.

How can you know whether the incumbent represents your point of view about a particular issue? Attend any meetings where it will be discussed or listen to the streaming of the meetings on your phone or computer.

Each meeting, held in either Hauppauge or Riverhead, includes a Public Portion, when members of the public may make statements to the legislators about any of their concerns. (They may not answer questions asked by constituents at the meeting but can be reached at their office if you wish to speak with them.) What can we find out about the opposing candidates? Information from news articles, debates held by civic organizations, events where the candidates will be meeting voters and websites such as www.vote411.org/ are ways to learn more about all candidates.

The New York Civil Liberties Union, recognizing how hard it is to hold public officials accountable, has scheduled training sessions open to the public from 6 to 8 p.m. on Oct. 1 at the Deer Park Public Library, Oct. 3 at the Patchogue-Medford Library, Oct. 8 at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, and Oct. 9 at Middle Country Public Library in Centereach. Call 631-650-2301 or email suffolk@nyclu.org for more information or to register.

The election is but one step in the process. Our job continues with the candidate who has won. We can continue to speak at the Legislature and committee meetings, and at meetings with the legislator and/or staff to work toward action. Gathering others who share and support your concerns will strengthen your efforts to create positive change.

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.

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By Nancy Marr

In July 2015, New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman made permanent the Commission to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services in New York. To measure the impact of the justice gap on vulnerable litigants and others, a task force had been created in 2010 to assess the extent and nature of the state’s civil legal services crisis. 

It held public hearings with civil legal providers, law firms, law schools and other stakeholders statewide and determined that the chronic lack of  free and low-cost legal assistance has led to a crisis in the courts, reflected by the ever-rising number of unrepresented litigants in these cases whose incomes are too low to pay for legal representation (a low-income family of four in New York State earns about 125 percent of the poverty level of $25,750).   

The mission of the commission is to ensure access to justice for all by using every resource, including self-help services, pro bono programs, technological tools and adequate funding (now $100 million of dedicated state funds annually for civil legal services throughout New York State). In order to add more pro bono attorneys, the commission amended the Rules of Professional Conduct to recommend an increase of annual pro bono hours for lawyers and for law school graduates seeking admission to the New York State bar from 10 to 50.   

The commission sought a site for a local pilot in which a strategic action plan could be developed; its goal would be providing effective assistance to all the persons in need and its success could then inform similar efforts in communities statewide. 

Looking at Suffolk County it found significant assets: a supportive judiciary, engaged providers, an active bar association and an involved law school that provides a variety of legal clinics for residents and trainings for legal service providers are significant assets. 

Suffolk’s challenges include its geography, the highest number of veterans in the state, a high percentage of homeless persons and many unaccompanied minors. A substantial  percentage of the population speaks a language other than English at home. 

Because the needs of many community members were still unmet, Suffolk was selected as a pilot. The gaps in legal services in Suffolk County are largest in three areas: family law, immigration and re-entry of veterans and formerly incarcerated individuals. Housing and health care also loom high in need for legal help. 

With funding from the Public Welfare Association, under the leadership of Administrative Judge C. Randall Hinrichs, Suffolk County launched its program with the Suffolk Planning Group, including civil legal aid providers, the judiciary, the Suffolk County Bar and Touro Law Center. Prior to starting the program, they held listening sessions, attended by 70 of the community organizations that are points of entry for people seeking help. 

Despite the number of service providers, many recognized that they were unfamiliar with each other’s services and that gaps exist that present opportunities for community integration and resource awareness. Training will be provided for these organizations and nonlawyer volunteers on how to make effective referrals. Recognizing the importance of talking to people in their own language, and at their level, these organizations can provide assistance to people in need that can prevent the escalation of issues into court matters. 

To publicize the legal resources that exist in Suffolk, and make it easier to navigate the system, the Suffolk Planning Group is soon to launch a website that would include offerings of the many legal service providers and advocacy groups. The two centers for help are Brentwood Public Library, 34 Second Ave., Brentwood, and Middle Country Public Library, 575 Middle Country Road, Selden. Suffolk residents may call 631-822-3272 for appointments with attorneys who provide advice in areas of law to persons in need. Informational materials are available at the centers, as well as training videos. 

The intersections between individuals and the civil justice system are complex. As we begin to break down barriers, we can enable everyone to access the information and effective assistance they need, and in a form they can use. With an integrated system where communities are empowered; courts participate and support access to justice initiatives; and legal service providers are dedicated to serving those in need, the provision of effective assistance will help people improve their lives. 

To view copies of the Community Legal Help Project information flyers in English and in Spanish, visit http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org/TakeAction.html.

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.

'Some 1,300 communities in the U.S. now have no newscoverage at all.' - Pew Research Center

By Donna Deedy

It’s often said that a free press is a pillar of democracy, a fourth branch of government, capable of shining a light on corruption to reveal truth. History is full of cases where news stories have exposed unethical or criminal behavior, essentially helping to right a wrong. 

Consider the story on the Pentagon Papers, which showed how the federal government misled the public about the Vietnam War. When congressional leaders didn’t act, newspapers filled a role. 

Think of the news story about lead contamination of Flint, Michigan’s water supply and the Boston Globe’s series that exposed the widespread cover-up of childhood sexual abuse by Catholic priests. Most recently, the Miami Herald’s series “Perversion of Justice” is credited for exposing the crimes and lenient punishment of Jeffrey Epstein, who allegedly operated a sex-trafficking scheme with underage girls. 

These are just a few cases with incredible breadth and scope that show how journalism raises awareness and ultimately prompts change. Countless other stories underscore the value and impact of journalism, and the news is not always necessarily grim. Aside from exposing bad actors or twisted policies, journalists also celebrate all that is good in a community and can bring people together by showing the great achievements of ordinary people. 

Any way you look at it, news matters. 

In the last decade and a half, though, it’s become increasing difficult for newspapers to survive. Newsroom employees have declined by 45 percent between 2008 and 2017, according to the Pew Research Center. Some 1,300 communities in the U.S. now have no coverage at all in what are called “news deserts.” This spells trouble for democracy. Thankfully, Congress is now opening a door to take a look at the situation. 

A six-minute YouTube video created by The News Media Alliance, the news industry’s largest trade organization, explains what people need to know about the situation. Entitled “Legislation to Protect Local News,” if you haven’t seen it, it’s worth your time. 

In summary, technology — think internet and smartphones — has had a phenomenally positive impact in increasing the demand for news by expanding readership and engagement. In fact, just 2 percent of the U.S. population in 1995 relied on the internet to get news three days a week, according to Pew Research Center. By 2018, 93 percent of the population accessed at least some news online. But while news is more widely circulated, this shift to online platforms is also at the root of the news industry’s struggle. 

Terry Egger, publisher and CEO of Philadelphia Media Network said in the video that he recognizes the power and beauty of the Facebook and Google’s distribution models, but he also sees in detail how they are eroding the news industry’s ability to pay for its journalism. 

“Facebook and Google are able to monetize their distribution of our content, nearly 80 to 85 cents of every dollar in advertising digitally goes to one of those two platforms,” he said. 

The bottom line: News is supported largely by advertisements. By creating and distributing content to an audience, news outlets essentially broker their reach to advertisers looking for exposure. Accessing news through Facebook and Google has essentially disrupted that business model.

Facebook and Google have generated over the last year $60 billion in revenue, explains U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), chairman of the U.S. House Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee in the video. In contrast, news publishers’ revenue is down about $31 billion “over the last several years.”

Cicilline senses that something needs to be done to help local papers and publishers survive. He, along with Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) and Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), have introduced in April a bill called Journalism Competition and Preservation Act of 2019, H.R.2054. 

The bill provides a temporary safe harbor where publishers of online content can collectively negotiate with dominant online platforms about the terms under which their content may be distributed. 

Collins, ranking member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, called the bill a first step to see if the nation can bring fairness to smaller and local and regional papers. So far, the legislation continues to gain momentum. 

Danielle Coffey, counsel for the News Media Alliance, stated in a recent email interview that the journalism preservation bill is receiving voices of support from both sides of the aisle. The organization is looking for more sponsors to be added. “We aren’t asking for the government to save us or even for the government to regulate or change the platforms,” said David Chavern, president and CEO of News Media Alliance. “We’re just asking for a fighting chance for news publishers to stand up for themselves and create a sustainable digital future for journalism.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said that he is monitoring the bill’s progress.“A free press has been essential to the maintenance of our democracy and keeping people informed,” he said. “As the way Americans consume their news evolves, we must ensure that tried-and-true local journalists are receiving their fair share so they can continue to serve their readers for generations to come.”

Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) is equally in agreement. “Our democracy is strongest when we have a free and diverse press,” he said. “From national to local news, events and happenings, we need the quality journalism of the free press to keep the public aware of what is happening in their country, state, town and local communities.”

Residents are urged to contact their congressman, Zeldin (631-289-1097) or Suozzi (631-923-4100), and ask them to become co-sponsors of H.R.2054: Journalism Competition and Preservation Act of 2019.

 

Caged migrant children at U.S. Mexico border

By Donna Deedy

Local U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D–Glen Cove), after visiting detention centers along the southern United States border July 13 with 15 other House Democrats, has returned to his Huntington office alarmed. The situation, he said, is awful.  

U.S. Immigration Detention Center. photo from Tom Suozzi’s Office

“We need to make the humanitarian crisis at the border priority number one,” Suozzi said. “The system is broken.”

The group toured and inspected facilities that are currently holding Central American migrants seeking asylum and met with several migrant families to hear, first-hand, their experiences and what can be done to help.

“America is better than this,” he said. “I have worked on this issue since before I was elected mayor of Glen Cove in 1993 and I will continue to fight for solutions consistent with our American values.” 

During the visit, Suozzi learned that only 20 to 30 migrants seeking asylum are processed each day. This provides an incentive for people to cross in between ports of entry, he said, and once apprehended, they then turn themselves in to seek asylum. In turn, this leads to their detention.

“My recent trip to the border makes it clear that this issue is incredibly complicated and has been for decades. The policies and rhetoric from this administration have exacerbated the problem, permeating a culture of fear that forces many immigrants further into the shadows.” 

 The congressman is calling for action, insisting that all delegates work together to:

•Address the current humanitarian crisis at the border.

•Secure borders in a smart and effective way.

•Create stability in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras that account for almost 90 percent of current immigrants.

•Protect the legal status of Dreamers and people with temporary protective status and their families with renewable temporary protection and a path to citizenship.

The tour coincided with rallies held in Huntington village and across the country and the world in protest of the policies and inhumane practices at U.S. border with Mexico. 

Suozzi was a guest on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on July 16, where he said that “the president has, once again, shifted the conversation away from important policy issues toward a racial divide in our country.”

The Rev. Duncan Burns, of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Huntington, attended the Huntington rally “Lights for Liberty” and spoke to the crowd that gathered July 12. Suozzi’s trip to the border, the reverend said, has sparked greater concern.

“We encourage people to raise their voices and to call their members of Congress to urge them to work together to find solutions,” he said. “The Episcopal Church is completely backing both parties to find a solution to this humanitarian crisis.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) did not respond to phone and email requests for comment on his position on the issue.

June 30, 2019- New York City, NY- Governor Andrew Cuomo on World Pride and the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall signs legislation banning Gay and Trans Panic Legal Defense and marches in 2019 World Pride Parade. (Darren McGee- Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

By Donna Deedy

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) has had a banner year. As a freshman senator serving the greater Huntington region, he introduced 68 bills with more than half passing the Senate, according to his office, and 26 percent passing both branches of the state Legislature.

Looking back, Gaughran said in a recent interview the 2019 legislative session, which ended June 20, will be regarded overall as remarkable. He attributes his success rate to the fact that the Senate was comprised of so many freshman senators.

His proudest accomplishment, he said, was passing a bill to provide disability benefits to civilian public employees who responded to Ground Zero after the 9/11 terrorist attack. The bill, called S5898D, offers relief to overlooked workers, such as transit employees and civil engineers who are sick, suffering from severe conditions and are dying from cleanup-related afflictions.

Timothy DeMeo, a first responder for the N.Y. State Department of Environmental Conservation, said he is grateful to Gaughran for getting the legislation passed within four months. 

“This law is long overdue and will help so many of us who need to retire to be able to fully address our health concerns,” he said.

DeMeo arrived at the Twin Towers just as the second plane struck and was injured by falling debris. His vehicle, he said, flipped over and pancaked. He has required multiple surgeries and is scheduled for more. DeMeo worked for the DEC for 20 years and logged more than 1,000 hours over the course of four months removing hazardous waste from Ground Zero. Today, he suffers from respiratory ailments and other conditions.

“I call myself the forgotten responder, because I’m not afforded the same benefits of my respected colleagues,” he said. 

Some of Gaughran’s other legislative achievements include making the 2 percent property tax cap permanent, allowing for early voting in elections and backing the state’s red-flag law, which establishes rules that keep guns out of the hands of people who are mentally ill. 

Gaughran said he opposed bail reform and allowing undocumented immigrants the ability to qualify for a driver’s license, two controversial bills that passed both the Senate and the Assembly and were ultimately signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). 

In the fall, while lawmakers are out of session, Gaughran expects to hold hearings with his constituents. One issue he’d like to see addressed is high property taxes. 

“We may need to open a discussion on consolidation,” he said. Schools, counties and local governments, he said, should work to share more services, which can reduce costs.

With regard to the Long Island Power Authority, Gaughran sponsored several bills. One bill, which proposed financial aid to school districts impacted by LIPA’s tax certiorari cases, stalled in committee. The other bill, S5122A, aimed to prevent LIPA from collecting back taxes through tax lawsuits. The Senate passed the latter LIPA bill unanimously and the Assembly introduced identical legislation, but it remained under legal review in the Assembly and was never put to a vote. Gaughran said that LIPA CEO Tom Falcone and LIPA lobbyists had a strong presence in Albany, after he successfully introduced the LIPA bill. He plans to take the issue up again in next year’s session.

LIPA’s press office did not respond to email requests for comments about its lobbying efforts related to the bills. Record requests filed under New York’s Freedom of Information Law are still pending.

Overall, Gaughran would like to see improvements made to the state’s budget process. Legislators, he said, are bombarded with bills right before the April 1 budget deadline.

“We really have to fix the budget process,” he said. “It’s policy as much as money.”

Photo from Governor’s office