Tags Posts tagged with "League of Women Voters of Suffolk County"

League of Women Voters of Suffolk County

Voting booths at Rocky Point High School. File photo by Kyle Barr

By Carolyn Sackstein

I am a consumer of news.

In addition to writing for TBR News Media, I read, watch and listen to various news formats. The troubling reports of harassment and intimidation of poll workers across this country have both saddened and angered me.

I have long believed that citizens must actively engage in the democratic process. I get a thrill each time I vote. And so, it became incumbent upon me to do more than just vote and donate to organizations that promote the election process.

My journey to do more started in September when I participated in a League of Women Voters of Suffolk County event in Patchogue. After learning that there was a shortage of election workers, I was determined to do my part.

After the event, during which I handed out voter registration forms and voter information literature, I drove to the Suffolk County Board of Elections at 700 Yaphank Ave. in Yaphank. I was greeted by a friendly and professional staff, who assisted me in signing up for a position as an election inspector.

They verified that I met the requirements. The staff asked which of the yearly training dates I would prefer to attend. I was then informed that I would receive a letter confirming the date, place and time of my training.

Training occurred at Brookhaven Town Hall and was conducted by a SCBOE employee. Each trainee received a detailed booklet. The three-hour class covered matters of election law. The procedures for opening and closing the election site were quite detailed.

Yes, there was a test at the end of the class. Each prospective election inspector was required to pass the test before being certified and sworn in with an oath of office. Election inspectors are compensated for required training sessions and when they work on early-voting days and on Election Day at an assigned polling site. Before leaving, we were told to expect a letter in October that would inform us to report to our assigned site at 5 a.m. on Election Day.

On Tuesday, Nov. 7, I walked into my assigned polling site at 4:57 a.m. It was only five minutes from my house. An experienced co-worker greeted me. As the three other workers arrived, we began the setup process. We were fortunate in that our location served only one election district. Other sites may have multiple election districts. 

Our first voter arrived seconds after 6 a.m. The remainder of the day passed as a continuous stream of voters moved through the signature verification process and received their ballots. Our experienced coordinator helped those who needed assistance with a variety of issues.

Four people did not show up to work. As a result of being short-handed, we did not have any “breaks.” We watched for a lull in the line so we could go to the restroom. Rarely was the line backed up, and never by more than about seven people.

Next year, the demand for poll workers will be greater due to an expected larger turnout.

The main complaint was from people who did not recall getting instructions on their polling location and arrived at the wrong place. We verified their polling site and, if needed, provided directions. 

The voting public was courteous, and many thanked us for our efforts. One voter overheard our coordinator mention to a co-worker that he had not eaten all day. The voter returned with a dozen donuts to be shared. His appreciation and kindness made the long day worthwhile.

Polls closed at 9 p.m. We packed up and secured all equipment and ballots. Our day ended at 11 p.m.

As a first-timer, I had been a bit anxious. I was blessed with patient, helpful and supportive co-workers. My primary takeaway? Becoming an election inspector was worthwhile, fulfilling and deeply satisfying. I felt safe.

I encourage everyone who qualifies to become an election inspector. It is a singularly edifying and enriching experience. To lend a helping hand for the betterment of our democracy, please visit www.elections.ny.gov/becomepollworker.html.

The writer is a reporter for TBR News Media.

METRO photo

By Nancy Marr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

METRO photo

By Nancy Marr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket. Photo by Elyse Sutton

By Nancy Marr

I have heard many people remark that libraries have become irrelevant. E-books, Google, and the internet can answer all our questions, saving taxpayers money and freeing up buildings for other uses. But is that true?

In the eighteenth century, the first step toward sharing books came with subscription libraries, which were owned and managed by members who paid an annual subscription fee. The first of these in the United States, still extant and called the Library Company of Philadelphia, was established in 1790 by Benjamin Franklin and his friends, who created the Company by pooling their books to make them available to all the members of the Company. Other subscription libraries continued through the mid-nineteenth century for men who could afford to pay for them, and many are still in existence today.  

Circulating libraries, often started by publishers of books that were more “popular” than those selected by the subscription libraries, made books available to people who could not afford to join a subscription library. The success of the subscription and circulating libraries probably retarded the growth of public libraries as we know them.

The social atmosphere of the subscription libraries satisfied many and others, women, in particular, could obtain the books about romance that they liked that they expected  would not be available in public libraries.  Community libraries grew in number, often starting as collections by wealthy readers. By 1935, libraries served 35 percent of the American people depending on local taxes or donations to maintain them. 

Andrew Carnegie was the spark that spread libraries across the United States with his donations. In 1899 he granted 5.2 million dollars to the New York Public Library to build a network of 67 branch libraries in the five boroughs. The city provided sites for the libraries and enough money to provide staff. Small towns received $10,000 for each library and had to provide $1,000 a year for maintenance. 

Although in principle libraries saw themselves as providing works of history, geography, and technical and scientific books, in the 1890’s libraries reported that 65 to 90 percent of books that were borrowed were works of fiction. The American Library Association (ALA), formed in 1876, offered a series of guides for small libraries.

The ALA, in response to demands to purge books that were anti-American in the Chicago library in 1939, issued a statement affirming the librarians’ right to choose what books should be in their collection. With the onset of Cold War anxieties, demands that librarians sign loyalty oaths split the ALA until the Supreme Court decided that Congress could ban only material “utterly without redeeming social importance.”  

To support the public libraries and help them provide the best in library service, organizations like the Suffolk Cooperative Library System in New York were formed. It expands the services of the 51 member libraries in Suffolk, runs the inter-library loan system, digitizes newspapers and other documents, helps with resource sharing and technical proficiency, and supports services to special client groups. 

Many local libraries have stepped into the role of community centers — providing meeting places for organizations, offering technical assistance to patrons with reference and computer questions, sponsoring book groups and classes in English, gardening, and cooking. Some libraries have hired part-time social workers and financial counselors, providing help to those who request it. Many have assembled useful tools for patrons to borrow, as well as seed collections for home gardens, kits and equipment for bird viewing and sports activities. 

Recently, some taxpayers have asserted that they, and others who agree with them, should have more of a say about what books are available, and what subjects are taught in public schools. They support library and school board members who have the same opinion, and are likely to oppose passing the library and school budgets. Although early librarians, thinking they were protecting readers, chose only those books that they approved of, they now follow the position of the ALA against censorship and line their shelves with books chosen because of their literary value or value to patrons.     

Libraries must rely on funding from taxpayers at an annual vote each spring.  If you haven’t been to your library recently, make a visit and see how much it offers, if not to you, then to job seekers using the computers, to families who cannot afford to buy books or DVD’s, to elderly people relying on the book-delivery service, or to anyone looking for a book to read that will open a new road. Vote to support the budget and the library. 

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.

New York State Map of Counties
Editor’s note: A March 31 court decision update is at the end of article.

By Lisa Scott

For New York State voters in 2022, redistricting is controversial, complex and changing. 

Gerrymandering is the intentional distortion of political districts to give one party an advantage. For decades in most states, the majority party in the state legislature drew maps for congressional and state legislature districts which would cement that party’s power for 10 years (until the next census). Nationally, gerrymandering has been criticized for disenfranchising many voters and fueling deeper polarization.

In New York State, voters in 2014 approved a constitutional  amendment which established an independent redistricting commission effective after the 2020 census. This amendment was presented as a way to create fair congressional and state senate and state assembly districts, keeping communities together and representation to minority areas to more fairly give all a voice through their elected officials. At the time, good government groups were divided about the amendment’s wording and potential effect … either a “step in the right direction” or “fake reform.”

In 2021, the newly formed NYS Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) traveled throughout New York State to hold numerous public hearings for input on the map lines that the commission would draw. Unfortunately the IRC was divided equally along partisan lines, and Republican and Democratic commissioners each submitted their own maps to the state legislature and were unable to submit the single plan required by the amendment.  

This failure of the IRC threw the district mapping back into the hands of the legislature (both the senate and assembly have Democratic supermajorities) and the legislature’s final 2022 district lines resulted in more districts with strong Democratic-leaning voters. Republicans then filed a lawsuit in Steuben County (upstate NY) which  threw the 2022 NYS election calendar into potential chaos as it moved through the court system. 

A judge did rule to allow this year’s maps/elections to take place as scheduled, but if Republicans win the suit it appears that there will be a repeat election for NYS Senate and Assembly in 2023 with newer district maps. This would result in state legislative elections in three consecutive years — 2022, 2023 and 2024. 

There has been concern and controversy about the congressional lines in Suffolk (CD 1, 2 and 3) whose boundaries have significantly changed. Some elected legislators no longer live in their districts, and there has been “packing” (concentrating the opposing party’s voting power in one district to reduce their voting power in other districts) and “cracking” (diluting the voting power of the opposing party’s supporters across many districts). Cracking was most evident regarding the Town of Smithtown, which is divided among 3 congressional districts, and the community of Gordon Heights, which does not have the single representative that they advocated for at many public hearings in 2021. 

Although the next Suffolk County Legislature elections will not be held until 2023, redistricting for the SC Legislature is mired in controversy as well. Legislators of both parties did not nominate representatives to a county redistricting commission in 2021. The Democratic majority therefore drew maps and passed legislation to create the new districts. 

Lawsuits were filed and County Executive  Bellone vetoed the bill in early 2022. A new independent/bipartisan redistricting commission is expected to start work in April 2022. Remember that your current Suffolk County legislator will represent you until January 1, 2024. Once the Suffolk legislative maps are drawn and approved, voting in the primaries and general election for those seats will occur in 2023 (not this year). 

The bottom line for Suffolk County voters? Find your new congressional and state assembly and senate districts at https://newyork.redistrictingandyou.org. Voting in your new district takes effect with the 2022 primaries and general election. However your current representative in Congress and the state legislature will represent you until January 1, 2023.

As you can see, redistricting after the 2020 census has become controversial, complex, and changing. Today’s “rules” may be overruled by court decisions. Dates may change. Districts may be redrawn. Or nothing will change until 2030!

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.


Judge rejects New York’s redistricting plan, orders new maps

By Michelle L. Price | AP

Thursday March 31, 2022

NEW YORK — A judge has ordered New York’s Democrat-controlled Legislature to quickly redraw the state’s congressional and legislative districts after finding they were unconstitutional.

Judge Patrick McAllister said in a Thursday ruling that maps redrawing the state’s congressional districts were gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. McAllister said those districts must be redrawn, along with the legislative districts, in a way that attracted at least some bipartisan support.

McAllister, a state trial court judge, gave lawmakers until April 11 to try again. If their new maps fail to pass muster in the courts again, the judge said he would order the state to pay for a court-approved expert to redraw the maps.

Legislative leaders said they would appeal the ruling.

“This is one step in the process. We always knew this case would be decided by the appellate courts. We are appealing this decision and expect this decision will be stayed as the appeal process proceeds,” said Mike Murphy, spokesman for the Senate majority.

A message seeking comment from the governor’s office was not immediately returned.

The state’s primary elections are scheduled June 28 and candidates have already begun campaigning in the new districts.

The judge said that if the Legislature fails again and an outside expert is hired to draw the maps, the process would be expensive and lengthy and may leave the state without maps before Aug. 23, the last possible date that the state could push back its primary election.

Republicans had argued in a lawsuit that the maps were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Democrats and marginalize GOP voters.

Former GOP U.S. Rep. John Faso, a spokesperson for the Republicans who filed the lawsuit challenging the maps, said Democrats willingly violated a prohibition on partisan gerrymandering.

“This is a victory for the people of the state and it’s a victory for competitive and fair elections in New York State,” Faso said.

Legislative and congressional boundaries are being redrawn as part of the once-per-decade redistricting process kicked off by the 2020 Census.

The maps, drafted by lawmakers and approved by Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, ensured that Democrats made up a strong majority of registered voters in 22 of the 26 congressional districts the state will have for a decade.

Republicans currently hold eight of New York’s 27 seats in Congress.

In early March, McAllister said at a hearing that he didn’t think there was enough time to redraw the maps before the June primary. But the judge said he would issue a decision by April 4 about whether to uphold or strike down the maps.

The legal challenge in New York is among a series of disputes over redistricting playing out in states around the country.

Pixabay photo

By Susan Wilson

Carbon emissions affect the planet significantly, causing global warming and ultimately climate change. This warming causes extreme weather events like tropical storms, wildfires, severe droughts, melting of the polar ice caps, heat waves, rising sea levels and the disturbance of animals’ natural habitat.

Greenhouse gases, including the carbon-containing gases carbon dioxide and methane, are emitted through the burning of fossil fuels, land clearance and the production and consumption of food, manufactured goods, materials, wood, roads, buildings, transportation and other services.

We all want a healthier planet, a place that will continue on for generations to come. You may wonder how you can make a difference in view of the enormity of the problem. The amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere because of our own individual energy needs is called our “carbon footprint.” It is our personal impact on the environment. 

Did you know that the U.N. has found that 2/3 of all greenhouse gases originate from decisions made on the household level? Our decisions can help to rapidly transform our economies and lifestyles off fossil fuels and on to clean and green. Learn how your actions matter in ways to cut emissions, address equity issues and protect and restore ecosystems.  

Change can become easier when individuals or small groups of people concentrate on their own personal change and share their ideas and accomplishments with others. Look at the success of the Carbon CREW project developed by Drawdown East End and supported by the League of Women Voters. The Carbon CREW Project brings together small teams of climate-friendly folks to plan, proclaim and live a 50% carbon reduction lifestyle! CREW represents both the team approach and is the acronym for Carbon Reduction for Earth Wellbeing. 

Using 2040: A Handbook for the Regeneration by Damon Gameau, based on Project Drawdown https://drawdown.org/, guides lead participants in creating Personal Carbon Action Plans and in replicating the CREW strategy for exponential growth, peer to peer accountability and overall 50% carbon reduction by 2030. When the CREW sessions are over, groups stay in touch to confirm progress and provide ongoing support.  

Despite our best intentions and our most persuasive approaches a person will not change just because we say they should. The only thing we can change is how we connect and relate to other people. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t offer help, guidance, or opinion when asked to. So, if you are finding changing other people difficult, shift your focus to changing you. You can do your part to reverse global warming.  

Start by finding out your personal impact on the environment by checking your Carbon Footprint on this website: https://www3.epa.gov/carbon-footprint-calculator/.  The calculator estimates your footprint in three areas: home energy, transportation and waste. Everyone’s carbon footprint is different depending on their location, habits, and personal choices.

Develop a Personal Carbon Action Plan which acknowledges all the good earth saving things you already do. Decide what changes you can make now. Set long term goals such as the purchase of a Hybrid or electric vehicle or solar panels.

Here are some things you can do immediately to lower your carbon footprint and change your impact on the environment.

1. Use cold water for laundry, make your own fabric softener, purchase detergent   sheets instead of products in bulky non-recyclable containers, air dry clothes whenever possible

2. Stop buying single use plastic products. 

3. Always use a re-usable bag when shopping.

4. Schedule your thermostat.

5. Become aware of how often you use your car — combine trips.  

6. Learn to compost or join a community composting group. 

7. Join a Carbon CREW in your area.  

8. Support and become active in environmental groups in your area.

9. Turn each new positive change into automatic good habits and share your success with everyone you know. 

Susan Wilson is president of the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, Shelter Island and the North Fork and representative to the board of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. Visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860. 

Photo by Julianne Mosher

By Nancy Marr

What can we say about our recent election?  In Suffolk the loss of their seats by many local Democratic legislators was a surprise. Although a majority of voters in Suffolk County tend to vote Republican, Democratic legislators had been doing well for many years with little opposition. Was it because voters were critical of the dissension among the Democrats in Washington, as many analysts said? 

Editor and columnist Ezra Klein quoted data scientist David Shor, who said that the Democrats lost many lower income voters, particularly Hispanics, because of their emphasis on issues like defunding the police. Shor also said they should have talked up the issues that were the most popular and kept quiet about the others. Or did the struggle between the parties cause a lot of “no” votes on principal? 

But, coming back to Suffolk County, why were three of the five NYS ballot propositions defeated so profoundly? Many voters reported robocalls urging them to vote “no” for propositions one, three, and four. Proposition #1 would have removed a requirement included in the amendment of 2014 (that first created New York State’s independent redistricting commission), which said that there must be at least one vote from the minority on the maps that are submitted. (The League of Women Voters opposed Proposition #1, believing that it was important to give both parties a chance to have meaningful participation in redistricting).  

Propositions #3 and #4 would have made voting much easier. #3 would have it possible for a citizen to register closer to the day of the election, instead of having to register ten days before the election, as specified in the NYS Constitution. And proposition #4 would have removed the restrictive requirements to get an absentee ballot, allowing voters to vote at home if they wished, or if their work schedule interfered with the election schedule. 

Were Suffolk voters agreeing with voters in many other states who didn’t seem to want to make voting easier? Were the election results just an example of the flow of history? Perhaps the election was the natural response of Republican party leaders who found ways to convince voters to fight to gain control, while the Democratic leaders did not effectively work to get out the vote. There were issues that voters were concerned about: educational issues around teaching black history; privacy issues around mandated vaccinations; and the dilemma of schools being closed for much of the year, that Republican and Conservative campaigners emphasized to build support.   

Many voters may not know how, or do not make the effort, to evaluate the candidates who are actually running and instead rely on information on flyers and social media. The League of Women Voters, which is nonpartisan and never supports or opposes any candidate or party, sponsors candidate debates, on zoom and in person when possible, where candidates introduce themselves and answer questions. 

The League provides information from all the candidates in an online database, VOTE411.org, which provides information to each voter about their registration status, where they will vote, and their entire ballot, including all offices and any propositions.  Newsday and most of the local newspapers also print information about all the candidates and their experience and opinions, explaining why they are endorsing them, if they do.  

Voters who are informed are better able to select candidates who will represent their interests. Voters will now also have a chance to ensure that the election districts for New York State Assembly and Senate and the United States Congress are fair, representing their community and its population. 

Prior to the 2020 Census, the changes in district lines were drawn by a legislative committee, representing the political parties. In 2014, a Constitutional Amendment was passed creating an independent redistricting commission (NY IRC) for New York State. It is charged with revising the district lines to accord with the findings of the United State Census in a manner that is fair and nonpolitical. 

On November 23, the IRC will hold a hearing for Suffolk County at Stony Brook University’s Wang Center. To learn more about the new district lines and how to attend or testify at the hearing, go to https://nyirc.gov/ and review the current maps and the revisions. The testimonies at the hearing will influence the New York State Legislature, which will either accept the maps or send them back for revisions. If after two revisions no plan is approved by the IRC, the redistricting will go back to the Legislature to be drawn.  

The IRC hearings offer every citizen the opportunity to give input about how they will be governed, just as casting a vote in an election will help select a candidate who represents you. 

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

Brookhaven Town Landfill. Image from Google Maps

By Lisa Scott and Nancy Marr

Planning and decision making in our county needs to be a more open, thoughtful process. There is a concern on the part of communities in the area surrounding the Brookhaven Town Landfill that the plans for closing it in 2024 are unclear and have not been fully disclosed to the public. 

The League’s March 2021 TBR column on zero waste (https://tbrnewsmedia.com/making-democracy-work-how-can-we-get-to-zero-waste/) set the stage … our goal is to significantly reduce our garbage, but we are far from getting significant action from our neighbors (and our consumer/disposable society) in the next few years. Thus, what the Town of Brookhaven (TOB) does with the landfill site, the surrounding area, and the ash disposal will be a major factor for central Suffolk residents in the coming years. 

The TOB landfill was established on vacant land zoned mostly residential in 1974. Hamlets, developments, neighborhoods now surround the landfill site, including the areas of North Bellport and Horizon Village. 

Looking ahead to the closing of the landfill, TOB officials have proposed changing the zoning of 136 acres on the landfill site from residential to light industry and selling some of the land for an industrial park, with a codicil to prevent certain waste-related uses. (The remaining acres include the municipal recycling facility and yard waste and composting operations and undisturbed woodland.) 

At the zoning hearing held by the TOB in July, residents from all parts of the town protested the plan to sell the acreage and suggested instead that the town seek community input about how to remediate and re-purpose the entire landfill property. Clearly information is required about possible contamination of water and soil and the testing results over the past 50 years (think of the Bethpage and Brookhaven Lab plumes). 

The League is focused on civic education and government transparency. We urge the TOB Supervisor and Board to THINK BIG! The problems and possible solutions to the landfill closure, possible pollution, health effects and ash-disposal are just one part of a proposed ongoing discussion. 

Appointing a sustainability committee could lead the TOB toward better understanding of the problem and solutions and lead a community education effort. The town needs to communicate the issues openly with the public and hold public listening sessions to get constituents’ input. Garbage itself, and its costs in dollars, health, property values, and yes, our children’s future, MUST be described and garbage volume reduced significantly. If the landfill is to close in 2024, time is of the essence. Everyone should have the opportunity to be heard.

In a time of contentiousness and public strife, it’s critical that government brings its citizens/residents into the tent and that accurate, thorough information is the basis. The people must be heard, and decision-making must be transparent and accessible. The Town of Brookhaven owes this to the people who elected them and placed their trust in these representatives. 

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

Pixabay photo

By Lisa Scott

Americans (remember civics?) know that there is a third branch of government … the Judiciary. Unfortunately, most think of Judge Judy (and the myriad of similar TV judges) and Law and Order (and its spinoffs). If they are politically engaged, it’s the Supreme Court that is a focus. However, judges affect the majority of Americans much “closer to home” at some point in their lives: traffic, matrimonial, drug and alcohol, accidents, property. But there’s so little awareness of how judges are selected  and the pressing need for court reform in New York State.

Because of the League of Women Voters’ nonpartisan principles and expertise with voter education, I was asked by County Executive Steve Bellone to moderate a four-hour judicial reform conference on June 8. Opening keynotes from Congressman Jerry Nadler (Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee) and Hon. Jeh Johnson (former U.S. Dept of Homeland Security Secretary, appointed Special Advisor on Equal Justice in the Courts by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore in 2020) set the stage for the three panels. 

These focused on the history and experience of judicial selection; a robust discussion of judicial selection reform proposals, and a wide-ranging discussion of the challenges: court simplification, promoting diversity on the bench, and criminal justice and public confidence in state judiciary as well as methods to promote and ensure judicial independence and  implications on criminal justice. (View the entire conference at https://www.facebook.com/SteveBellone/videos).

During the conference, Hon. Stuart Namm, former Suffolk County Judge, was given the Suffolk County Public Service Award by CE Bellone. Judge Namm’s experience culminating in 1985 with a letter to then-Gov. Mario Cuomo describing misconduct by the Suffolk County police and the district attorney’s office including possible perjury by prosecutors. 

New York’s State Commission of Investigation followed up on Judge Namm’s charges, eventually filing a report (described as “blistering” by Newsday) condemning misconduct by police detectives and prosecutors. The Suffolk County police commissioner resigned soon afterward; the district attorney declined to run for re-election. A number of officers retired early or resigned. No one, however, was indicted. Denied renomination to his judgeship, Judge Namm was ostracized and moved to North Carolina. 

Although “some who knew him wished he would stay quiet,” Namm’s 2014 “A Whistleblower’s Lament” details his experiences. He said “… in New York state, judges always have to be looking over their shoulders. So long as judges in trial courts are selected through the political process, things will never change.”

The LWV of NYS has been advocating for court reform since 1955, when there were about 1500 autonomous courts in the state. Some progress has been made since then, but there has been tremendous reluctance by the NYS Assembly and Senate and the Governor to fully address issues via legislation and appropriate budget support. Constitutional amendments are needed. We support measures to obtain a unified, statewide court system, and believe judges should be chosen on the bases of merit although with ultimate control of a major governmental institution resting with the people. 

New York’s existing multiple court structure creates confusion for the people the justice system is supposed to serve. For many, and frequently in matters involving the safety of families and children, the scenario is this: different judges decide on different pieces of inter-related cases, as a result each judge has an incomplete story of a case causing individuals to receive multiple decisions and faulty resolution of their cases. As a result, all parties to a case have to make multiple appearances, along with any government agencies, attorneys and witnesses and have to repeat, again and again, the trauma that caused them to appear in court. 

This not only wastes time for everyone, it is completely unfair and an unproductive way to provide justice, causes the loss of work and wages and perpetuates a system that is difficult, if not impossible, to understand, and hurts individuals and their families as they get caught up in systemic chaos. (To learn more, visit https://simplifynycourts.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 www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email [email protected] or call 631-862-6860.

Microplastics. Photo by Erica Cirino

By Nancy Marr

How many plastics do you use each day  — cups, straws, food containers, water bottles, toys, shoes? How many of them could you live without? How have we become so dependent on plastics – most of which we use once and then discard? 

Beginning after World War II, the invention of items like plexiglass, impressive because of its durability, started the growth of the plastics industry. More recently, with the fossil fuel industry facing cutbacks, and with fracking reducing the price of natural gas, fossil fuel companies in the United States found they could make products from their waste, making it into things people could use. Since the 1960s, plastic production has increased by approximately 8.7% annually, evolving into a $600 billion global industry. Fossil fuel companies supported building more pipelines to make more plastic products.

Recycling was regarded as the way to dispose of the plastics, turning them into new products. In 1975, producers lobbied the United States government for more recycling programs. But recycling has not been a solution. Now, 400 million tons have accumulated over the world, most of it created within the last 15 years in the United States. Plastics degrade when they are recycled; the World Economic Forum estimates that only 2% has been effectively recycled to create new products. Burning the plastic waste to melt it releases toxic compounds and carbon. 

The public has become aware of the problems created by plastic waste. Efforts to clean the oceans where the waste has accumulated have revealed micro and nanoplastic pellets and beads, which we are also finding in cosmetics. Other countries are responding to the problem of the waste piled on their shorefronts and waterways. 

Current estimates find that oceans have 60% fish but 40% plastics. China, which received and recycled much of the plastic waste we shipped to them until 2013, passed a law refusing all shipments of waste from the United States. 

Additionally, when plastics are exposed to natural forces like sunlight and wave action, plastics will degrade into microplastics. Over time, plastic particles contaminate the marine ecosystem and the food chain, including foodstuffs intended for human consumption. In vivo studies have demonstrated that nanoplastics can translocate to all organs, affecting human health.

Plastic producers say the plastics are OK, people need them; it is what the consumer does after their use that is the problem, leaving the problem to us. Local efforts to reduce the use of plastics have had some success – cutting back on the use of plastic water bottles, for instance. But the public believes they need them, encouraged by advertising and publicity from water bottle manufacturers like the Ohio manufacturer Fiji who convincingly tells consumers that their water is safer than the public water supply. 

Environmentalists have realized that change needs to start with the manufacturers, not the consumer. Freeing the oceans from the deposits of plastics and creating plastics that are compostable or biodegradable will take strong citizen action. According to The Daily Planet, “we are seeing that public demands are clear, and they want plastic waste to be addressed.”

We need to ask the Federal Government to stop giving rebates to fossil fuel companies. The Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate plastics as a pollutant under the Clean Water Act and will keep pushing for plastic pollution to be treated as the hazardous waste that it is. On a federal level, the Break Free from Plastics Act that was re-introduced recently includes a strengthened EPR policy that holds plastic producing companies accountable for their waste. It also would implement a three-year pause on issuing permits for new plastic production facilities. 

In New York State the Extended Producer Responsibility bill (S1185), co-sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Englebright and Senator Todd Kaminsky, will be addressed in the Senate most likely in June. It would require producers and manufacturers to finance the disposal of their packaging materials and plastics, with incentives for finding ways of making recycling easier. The American Chemistry Council, which represents plastic producers, would put the onus on consumers to pay taxes on plastic to pay for recycling. 

Although recycling will not make the plastics go away, we should all do  what we can to reduce our personal use of plastics. Contact the legislators who have written the EPR bills, Senator Kaminsky ([email protected]) and Assemblyman Englebright ([email protected]) and your own state legislators, to tell them you support the EPR bill and reusable packaging to reduce the use of plastics.    

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