Making Democracy Work

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.

Pixabay photo

By Lisa Scott

Government is a social compact, affecting our lives on many levels. Each of us bears responsibilities including  understanding issues, evaluating and deciding which matter most to us, and acting to influence those that do.

The League of Women Voters has chapters on local, county, state and national levels. We are a unique, multi-issue, nonpartisan, political organization, encouraging informed and active participation in government. We influence public policy through advocacy and education and seek positive solutions to the problems confronting our communities and our country. 

As LWV, we anticipate taking significant action on key issues in the 2023 New York State Legislative Session (which ends in June). These issues include Election Reform, Good Government Reform, Healthcare, Judicial Issues, Natural Resources, State Finances and Education, Equality of Opportunity, Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking, and Rural Issues. Visit our website https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county to see our 2023 Legislative Agenda for more information on these key priorities. Beyond these broad categories, we also are gearing up for immediate advocacy related to needed additional funding in the 2023-2024 NYS budget:

Funding for State and County Boards of Elections: The League urges the Legislature to seriously consider the cost of new election improvements when introducing their proposed budgets and to consider setting up a yearly fund specifically for enhanced election reforms like early voting and absentee voting. It is not possible for boards of election to continue to expand voting access without funds devoted to the expansion of early voting poll sites, poll worker training, staffing, upgrading of old systems, and the establishment of new sites. The State Board of Elections and county Boards of Elections need a serious funding commitment to ensure that these progressive reforms are not unfunded mandates. 

Funding for Election Reform: The passage of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York was an historic moment in New York. It established rights of actions for denying or abridging the right of any member of a protected class to vote, assisted language-minority groups, required certain subdivisions to receive preclearance for potential violations of the law, and created civil liability for voter intimidation. This year, we expect to see the passage of a database bill that will support this bill. Additional funds should also be provided to counties to ensure compliance with all aspects of the law. 

In 2022, Governor Hochul signed legislation to reduce the 25-day statutory voter registration deadline to 10 days prior to the election. As many voters become engaged in the election close to election day, this legislation will allow for easier and more accessible voter engagement and participation in New York. This legislation allows for one “Golden Day” in which a voter can register to vote and vote on the same day. Since the law went into effect on January 1, 2023, it is essential that funds be appropriated to account for the increase in staff and training that will be essential for county boards to successfully implement this new procedure. 

Funding for Ethics Reforms: The League was glad to see the continued funding of New York’s new ethics body, the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government. We urge the Legislature to include this funding in their budget as continued support for a commission that holds public officials accountable. 

The executive budget has woefully underfunded the matching portion of the new public campaign financing program. This year is the first opportunity for New York to demonstrate a commitment to campaign finance reform and reducing the influence of big money in politics. During last year’s election, the 200 biggest donors outspent over 200,000 small donors in state races. 

The League applauds the Governor for including 14.5M in funding to support the administrative needs of the Public Campaign Finance Board. However, underfunding the matching portion of the program by $75M will not build the trust needed for candidates to opt into the program. Multiple studies done by the State Board of Elections indicate that by 2024 the program would need between $119M and $213M in matching funds to operate the program successfully. 

Fully funding the matching portion of this program would indicate a strong commitment to reform for New York voters and give candidates the confidence to buy into the program. The program will only see success if candidates participate. We urge the legislature to fully fund the requested $114.5 M for this program. 

You too can make your voice heard by becoming more informed, speaking out and contacting your elected officials; and consider joining your local LWV chapter. 

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 https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county or call 631-862-6860. 

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. 

The Setauket Mill Pond is being considered for an upcoming alewife study. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Lisa Scott

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) mission is to “conserve, improve and protect New York’s natural resources and environment and to prevent, abate and control water, land and air pollution…” 

Within the newly created Nissequogue River State Park in Kings Park, the DEC Division of Marine Resources has a state-of-the-art headquarters and laboratory to pursue these goals and ensure the conservation of our local marine life and habitats. All are welcome to visit their public lobby equipped with aquariums of local species and learn more ways to get involved and help monitor and protect marine life locally.

Shellfish have been a resource for Indigenous inhabitants of Long Island for thousands of years for a myriad of uses. In spite of massive human development over the past 400 years, shellfish are still an important resource today. Monitoring threats to shellfish and working to restore their populations and habitat is an important part of DEC’s work.

DEC Marine Resources Shellfish Microbiology Laboratory operates the only FDA-evaluated laboratory in the State for processing water samples to certify approved shellfish harvest areas. The laboratory features advanced equipment for processing and analyzing plankton, shellfish, and water samples, ensuring that shellfish harvested legally from approved areas in New York’s marine waters are safe for consumers and supports the State’s commercially important shellfish industry.

Year-round, the DEC conducts water quality sampling of over one million acres of shellfish harvesting areas across Long Island and the lab analyzes approximately 13,000 water samples annually to monitor water quality trends. As a result of continuous testing, the DEC classifies shellfish harvest areas as open year-round, seasonally open, or closed year-round. Use the DEC’s Public Shellfish Mapper to learn about harvest area boundaries, seasonally open dates, and water quality sampling locations: https://on.ny.gov/shellfishmapper

Under the Long Island Shellfish Restoration Program (LISRP), the DEC in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension, Stony Brook University, and the Town of Huntington completed the stocking of 13.6 million juvenile (seed) clams and (spat-on-shell) oysters and 650,000 adult clams in Huntington Harbor in October 2020 to improve water quality and enhance shellfish populations. The LISRP completed four additional stocking efforts at sanctuary sites in Bellport Bay, Hempstead Bay, Shinnecock Bay, and South Oyster Bay.

Monitoring of sanctuary sites is conducted by the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) at Stony Brook University to obtain biological and environmental information on shellfish growth, survival and spawning success, and to assess the effect on water quality, phytoplankton uptake and filtration and nitrogen cycling and removal. The results of the project will guide and support the success of future restoration efforts on Long Island.

Most Long Island tributaries once supported spring runs of returning alewife, a species of river herring native to Long Island. Like salmon, they split their life cycle between salt and freshwater. Alewife runs have been decimated by dams, habitat loss and declining water quality but remnant populations still exist in a few rivers and the public’s help is needed to learn more about their overall status across Long Island. 

Through the Long Island Volunteer Alewife Survey, volunteers help record observations of spawning alewife and documenting existing runs is an important step for restoration efforts. Monitoring efforts start mid-March and training workshops will be announced soon for Spring 2023. Suggested sites include: Frank Melville Memorial Park/Setauket Mill Pond in Setauket, Crab Meadow East Pond (Makamah Nature Preserve) in Fort Salonga, Stony Brook Grist Mill/Stony Brook Dam in Stony Brook, and Carlls River in Argyle Park, Babylon. Visit Seatuck’s website for workshop information and how to get involved: https://seatuck.org/volunteer-river-herring-survey/

The newly released Long Island Sound Marsh Migration Viewer is an online tool used to easily examine changes in marsh habitat along New York’s shores of the Long Island Sound watershed under various sea level rise scenarios over different time periods: http://warrenpinnacle.com/LIMaps.

New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC), Long Island Sound Study (LISS), and DEC will be hosting virtual public workshops for community stakeholders to learn more about the Viewer in early 2023. These workshops will demonstrate how to use the Viewer and will highlight an additional 47 marsh complexes that are added to the Viewer.

Whether you want to get outside to observe alewife in local rivers, sit at your desk to see changes to  local marsh habitats with rising sea levels, or learn about shellfish monitoring, you have these and many other resources and opportunities available from our local DEC Marine Resources Headquarters. Check out more ways to get involved from DEC’s website: https://www.dec.ny.gov/ or contact them at 631 444-0450 or [email protected]. We all should be responsible, educated stewards of our beautiful island home. 

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 https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county or call 631-862-6860.

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.

METRO photo

By Lisa Scott

If you’re a news consumer you’ve heard a lot about how important these midterm elections are. Voter turnout is usually greatest in a presidential election year (66.8% in 2020 59.2% in 2016) but falls off at midterms (49% in 2018 and 36% in 2014). It shouldn’t, since the entire House of Representatives and 1/3 of the Senate is on the ballot along with many state governors and state legislatures. 

Also this is the first election after many states reapportioned their districts, which has been contentious due to extreme gerrymandering (resulting in court cases, re-drawn lines, and in New York State  a huge amount of confusion for voters who don’t know which congressional and state districts they now reside in). Whether you’re an occasional voter or a consistent one, what matters is that YOU VOTE. Be prepared: study the ballot and make a plan. Keep in mind the following:

• If you didn’t register to vote by Oct. 14, you cannot vote in this election.

• If you didn’t request an absentee ballot by Oct. 24, the only way you can get one now is to physically appear at the Board of Elections on or before Nov. 7 (and fill it in while you are there).

• If you’ve requested an absentee ballot, you can track it online at https://voterlookup.elections.ny.gov/ 

• Early voting is currently underway (from Oct. 29 through Nov. 6). You can vote early at any of the 27 early voting sites in Suffolk County. Hours do vary, so check before you go at https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county.

The Suffolk County Board of Elections is still down as a result of the county’s IT department restoring systems after September’s hacking incident, but their phones are staffed. However you must vote at your assigned polling place on election day Nov. 8 — find it at https://voterlookup.elections.ny.gov/ 

Suffolk County Board of Elections trained poll workers staff the voting sites. Each position has a 2 workers — one a Republican and one a Democrat. An individual cannot unilaterally make a decision without the approval of the other party’s worker which provides balanced oversight. If you have any issue at the polls you can call the Election Protection hotline at (866) 390-2992, or the Suffolk County Board of Elections at 631-852-4500.

To find out what races and candidates are on YOUR ballot, visit the League of Women Voters’ www.Vote411.org. If you’re not familiar with the candidates you can refer to their answers to questions (which are unedited). 

When you’re at the polls, “flip” your ballot to see what propositions you are being asked to vote on. All NYS voters can vote yes or no on the “Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022”  proposition. (Bonds would be issued to provide moneys to make environmental improvements; these are not taxes.) The League of Women Voters supports this proposition. 

There is also a Suffolk County proposition on all ballots which updates the language in the County Charter with regard to terms limits for County Executive, County Legislator and County Comptroller. Because of vague language in the original Charter Law, voting yes to this proposition would make the language clearer; that the limit of years of service for those offices is 12 years, regardless of whether 12 years are served consecutively on non-consecutively. Voting no does NOT eliminate term limits for these offices. A no vote simply means that the original Charter Law language remains unchanged.

We live in challenging times and apathy on election day is not an option for any of us. And after you’ve voted, remain engaged: stay informed and active and communicate with your elected officials.

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 https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county or call 631-862-6860. 

Photo by Gerard Romano

By Nancy Marr

The $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Job Bond Act proposition on our ballot in 2022 will allow our state to undertake vital and urgent environmental improvement projects via issuing bonds; not a tax increase.

Long Island’s waterways are impaired by failing sewage and septic systems, and algae and nitrogen pollution impacts our sole-source aquifer system which provides drinking water to three million state residents. We need to find a way to conserve open space to benefit wildlife habitats, food production, and outdoor recreation. Many marginalized communities are harmed by pollution and have no access to open space, clean air and water.

There have been eleven environmental bond acts passed since the early 20th century. The conservation movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a response to vast deforestation, natural resource depletion and industrialization. The “forever wild” clause was added to the New York State Constitution in 1894 to enshrine the protection of lands in the Adirondacks and Catskills. 

In 1910 voters passed a bond act for $2.5 million, in 1916, for $10 million, and in 1924, for $15 million, all for the purposes of land acquisition and the establishment of parks. The 1965 Bond Act funded infrastructure to limit the flow of wastewater from untreated sewage overflows. In the 1970’s and 80’s, attention was galvanized by the problems with Love Canal, near Niagara Falls, the site of thousands of tons of toxic waste from the Hooker Chemical Company, which led policymakers in the US to establish hazardous waste regulatory systems.  The majority of the funding from the Environmental Quality Bond Act of 1986 went to manage hazardous waste in sites under the State Superfund program which had been established in 1979. The Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act of 1996 allocated the bulk of its $1.75 billion to safe drinking water and treatment of solid waste. 

The infrastructure in New York City, which supplied water to approximately 40 percent of NYS’s population, had already exceeded its life span by 2008 when the NYS Department of Health estimated that $38.7 billion would be needed over the next twenty years for drinking water infrastructure. The Legislature responded with an initial allocation in 2017 of $2.5 billion. In 2019 it passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which established clear statewide goals for emissions reduction and clear energy. 

Governor Hochul’s budget released the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Act of 2022. The final version, $4.2 billion, makes climate change its largest category of funding and designates that a portion of the total funding must be allocated to disadvantaged communities that bear a disproportionate share of negative environmental consequences. The 2022 Bond Act includes:

Climate Change Mitigation (includes money for electrifying school buses) — $1.5 billion: Will fund projects that expand clean energy infrastructure, increase energy efficiency, reduce green gas emissions, and protect air and water quality to help fight and mitigate climate change. 

Restoration and Flood Risk Reduction — $1.1 billion: Damage caused by severe storms and flooding is projected to cost over $50 billion statewide. Funding would provide investments in NY’s natural and manufactured coastal resilience systems such as shoreline protection, wetland restoration, local waterfront revitalization, green infrastructure, and voluntary buyout programs.

Open Space Land Conservation and Recreation — $ 650 million: The Bond Act funding will expand open space conservation programs, promote outdoor recreation, protect natural resources, improve biodiversity, benefit threatened and endangered species and help farmers who are facing the challenges of climate change. Funding will invest in restoring and maintaining native fish populations and increasing public access to our waterways to support LI’s maritime culture. 

Water Quality Improvement and Resilient Infrastructure — $650 million: A long-term solution is needed to fund our backlog of water quality and infrastructure needs which continue to outpace available funding; the Bond Act will help fill the gaps in funding by investing at least $659 million in protecting water quality, spending 35% of the total in disadvantaged communities.

On Election Day 2022, remember to turn over your ballot and vote for the Environmental Bond Act proposition! 

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.

A sign in front of a rain garden at the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood. Facebook photo

By Lisa Scott

On 212 acres in western Suffolk, a small group of women continue to discern how to live authentically so their actions remain consistent with their mission. These are the Sisters of St. Joseph (CSJ), who in their second century in Brentwood embrace and model sustainable practices bringing them ”into deeper union with the Holy One and the whole community of life.” 

The League of Women Voters recently met with them and toured their campus, and came away inspired and convinced that the Sisters live in a way that seeks “union with God and with the sacred community of life that includes all of creation — air, soil, plants and animals.”

In 1903, the Sisters, relocated from Flushing, NY to Brentwood on land that was originally inhabited by the Secatogue tribe, and established a school on fertile land referred to as “St. Joseph in the Pines.” Old stands of pitch pines, white pines and oak are preserved to this day. Over the years, a boarding school, convent,  chapel and nursing home were built while the surrounding area was developed and densely populated. 

A little more than thirty years ago, the Sisters formed an Earth Matters committee to better respond to the cries of the poor, the cries of Earth. Their mission of unity called for a response to heal a wounded world and dispel the illusion of separation. Through contemplation and study they sought to live with a deeper sense that they are a part of creation and not apart from it. 

Aware of the responsibility we all have for the health of Earth and in particular for the Long Island Bioregion the Sisters worked with the Peconic Land Trust and Suffolk County to preserve parcels of the Brentwood campus and return it to agricultural production — 28 acres of land are leased to several farmers, enabling mowed grass lawn to be restored to farming fields. 

The farmers are only permitted to use organic practices, and there is a farm stand for purchase of produce raised on the campus. SNAP coupons are accepted to encourage access to nutritious options raised locally. Island Harvest Food Bank has worked the land and hopes to harvest 10,000 lbs. of produce in 2022 while the Long Island Native Plant Initiative, an all-volunteer cooperative effort of over 30 non-profit organizations, governmental agencies, nursery professionals, and citizens works to  protect the genetic integrity and heritage of Long Island native plant populations and thus biodiversity from a landscape to genetic level in a greenhouse on the Brentwood grounds. The Sisters also raise chickens for eggs and harvest honey from their beehives, and have established a community sharing table on the grounds.

Waste is a natural aspect of life, so there is a commitment to composting organic materials and thus creating quality soil for agricultural use. Two alternative waste treatment systems have been built: one is a constructed wetland system to reduce nitrogen affecting our bays and waterways, the other designed for the needs of the nursing home to deal with medical waste in an innovative way.

With a strong commitment to clean energy, a 1 megawatt ground mounted solar array with 3192 solar panels was constructed on a 4 acre plot, which provides 63% of the energy used on campus. The ground cover surrounding the solar panels is also environmentally friendly with native meadows and plants attracting bees, butterflies and pollinators, avoiding the degraded land all too common in a solar field.

Native meadows inviting to pollinator insects and birds were planted and bloom throughout most of the summer. Work has been done to create rain gardens near roads and parking areas, to direct water back into the soil where native plants with their extensive long root systems assist with flood control and purify the water before filtering down into the aquifers.

The Sisters also engage in social justice issues and other community needs consistent with the practices of their founders. Their assessment of today is of a world that is bruised and broken from a lack of remembering who we are, where we come from and to whom we belong. We have forgotten that we are a part of one sacred community that began with a small yet potent spark 13.8 billion years ago that continues to connect and evolve our relationships. If healing is to happen for people it needs to happen for the planet as well. For more information, visit www.brentwoodcsj.org

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 https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county or call 631-862-6860. 

METRO photo

By Nancy Marr

Did you know that almost half of America doesn’t vote, even in presidential elections? Elections for state and county officials, school board members, and fire department members have even fewer voters. 

Our primaries that are scheduled for August 23 will be open only to those registered in a party, and even those may not vote. The will of the people is reflected in the results of elections. In an effort to get 100% participation in our elections, groups like the League of Women Voters are supporting same-day registration (already in place in 23 states). 

Concerned about the low percentage of voters, Miles Rappaport and E. J. Dionne have written 100%: The Case for Universal Voting. They relate the experience of Australia, which requires all citizens to vote, just as we require all citizens to perform jury duty; they suggest ways of automatically registering voters, as we now do with the Department of Motor Vehicles. 

In 2022, Get Out The Vote efforts must be stronger, louder, and even more creative. We can register millions, but if only thousands vote, have we truly empowered voters?

When the country was founded, voting was not secret, and the men who were eligible to vote, by virtue of race and sex and income, met in public to decide who they would choose. Nowadays, everyone 18 years or over is legally entitled to vote, and can vote privately, although some are prevented from casting their ballots by suppressive state legislation.  

Data from The American Presidency Project at U.C. Santa Barbara shows that 67% of eligible voters voted during the pandemic in the U.S. presidential election of 2020, but it was a record high compared with earlier elections (the election in 2012, for instance, had votes from 54.9 percent of the eligible voters).

In 1965 the Federal Government’s Voting Rights Act acknowledged the need to protect the rights of all to register and vote, especially in states where there had been racial discrimination, although that protection was weakened in 2013 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Shelby vs. Holder.

Reaching potential voters has become more difficult as our population has become more transient, which has led many voter rights organizations to increase their efforts to find new ways to appeal to voters. Rock the Vote was founded in 2010 to recruit potential voters on beaches, targeting youth aged 18 to 24 who represent the citizens least likely to vote. (Adults over 65 are the most likely to vote.) Training volunteers as “captains” to canvass their social networks of friends and neighbors is effective, with a follow up to answer any questions and provide support. Many groups enlisted volunteers to make phone calls to a list of registered voters. They found that a personable, non-rigid manner increased the turnout, especially if they went off-script and sounded like a real person, not a robot.

Working to get out the vote is something we can all do. On your own, with your family and friends and neighbors, you can ask them to plan to vote by asking them when they plan to vote and how they plan to get there. (In a campaign to encourage people to vote, it is important to remain neutral and nonpartisan, refraining from expressing your view about the best candidates.)  

If you would like to do more, visit the League of Women Voters of New York’s website lwvny.org/league-toolkits/ Click on GOTV toolkit, or Voter Registration Drive toolkit. 

Rock the Vote (www.rockthevote.org) focuses on getting young people to vote, and Glaad (www.glaad.org/vote) focuses on LGBTQ people and their allies. Both welcome volunteers and can provide information about voting dates and places. If you wish to support a particular candidate, contact their campaign office to offer to make phone calls. We need to reach citizens in every part of the country to be sure their views are represented.

As our population changes demographically, it is especially important for everyone to learn to work together to create and maintain a healthy society, beginning with our participation in elections. 

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.

Pixabay photo

By Lisa Scott

Independence Day traditions bring together families, friends and communities to celebrate being American. It’s not traditionally a time for introspection over barbecues, at ballparks and beaches and enjoying (or hiding from) pyrotechnics. But in 2022 July 4 occurred at a time of deep national concerns: economic, environmental, judicial, governmental and local. 

Journalists, pundits, academics and attorneys have weighed in on end-of-term Supreme Court decisions which overturned Roe v. Wade and New York State’s restrictions on concealed carry of guns, brought religion further into publicly supported education and severely limited the ability of the EPA to address carbon emissions in a time of severe climate change. 

The New York Times on July 3 wrote, “The United States appears to be drifting apart into separate nations, with diametrically opposed social, environmental and health policies… The tearing at the seams has been accelerated by the six vote conservative majority in the Supreme Court, which has embraced a muscular states-rights federalism.” 

The Constitution has been evoked more and more in the past year; some demand a literal  interpretation, while others wonder what happened to its amendments’ rights and freedoms. 235 years ago our nation’s founders wrote “We the People” to commence the preamble to the Constitution, yet the common ground of our civic beliefs has severely eroded. 

Where you live determines what rights you have. We are no longer (if we ever were) equal Americans. But the League of Women Voters has and will continue to educate and advocate for voting rights which exemplify freedom — “the freedom to determine who we are, who we want to be and who we want to make the decisions about our country and our bodies” (Dr. Deborah Turner, President, LWVUS).

At our annual convention in late June the League of Women Voters of the United States  reflected on new barriers to voting and continued attacks on our democracy, and the ways in which LWV is working to register new votes, but particularly to “Get Out the Vote.” From 2020-2022 (even through the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic)) there were 12 million contacts with voters. The League’s efforts tackled systemic challenges to voting rights through advocacy, litigation and organizing. The goal was to build more trust in our elections, grow our electorate with equity, create fairness for voter access and ensure community districting truly reflects our population. 

The League’s Vote411.org voter information website was accessed by 5.5 million voters to view their ballot in over 40,000 races. Over 89,000 candidates were listed. Voters could check their voter registration, request an absentee ballot and review nationwide voting rules. 

LWV litigated on a variety of issues including voter access during Covid-19, the 2020 Census, redistricting, money in politics and excessive voter purges. LWV filed lawsuits in more than half the states to ensure adequate ballot notice and cure procedures, access to drop boxes and greater access to voting by mail. LWV also joined amicus briefs supporting common sense money in politics regulations and intervened in cases to prevent irresponsible voter purges. 

Our New York State LWV has also been active on the state level, including amicus briefs and litigation especially on NYS redistricting and the complications resulting from the court requiring redrawn Congressional and NYS Senate districts, leading to  two primary dates in 2022 (June 28 and August 23).

LWVUS also continued focusing on the protection and enforcement of voting rights in the 117th Congress which included the For the People Act, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Alongside national voting civil rights partners, LWVUS supported hundreds of state and local Leagues in leading and joining distributed actions around the country in support of federal voting rights legislations, resulting in hundreds of actions and thousands of voters engaged. In spite of this work, the US Senate failed to advance (combined) Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act past debate.

In 2022 and beyond, Get Out The Vote efforts must be stronger, louder, and even more creative. We can register millions, but if only thousands vote, have we truly empowered voters? Our democracy is not based on age, race, gender, or zip code — it is for everyone, and that is why we must not only fight back but lead the charge. This is not a partisan issue — This is an American issue. “We the People” should together want to make our democracy stronger and create a more perfect union.

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 https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county or call 631-862-6860.