Tags Posts tagged with "Making Democracy Work"

Making Democracy Work

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By Lisa Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Stephanie Quarles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Lisa Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit http://lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

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By Lisa Scott

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

Registered?

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

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

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

Use the new voting process

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

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

Do your homework before you go

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

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

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

You might learn something

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

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

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

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit http://lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

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By Lisa Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit http://lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

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

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By Nancy Marr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Nancy Marr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Stephanie Quarles

Many organizations, universities, scientists and government officials have studied and spoken out on Long Island’s water issues, with regard to our oceans, estuaries, rivers and our aquifers.  

A recent conference in Riverhead on May 30, organized by the Environmental Advocates of New York (EANY), focused on the contamination of drinking water supplies in Suffolk County and aimed to educate and strengthen advocacy and partnerships on these issues. At the conference the following bills that were pending in the NYS Legislature and supported by EANY were highlighted. Since the conference, the Senate and Assembly have debated and passed all but one of these bills. They are described below (source: EANY). 

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1,4-Dioxane Ban A.6295, S.4389 prohibits the distribution and sale of household cleaning products and personal cosmetic products containing 1,4-dioxane to protect our health and waterways that will take effect Dec. 21, 2021. The USEPA has classified it as likely to be “carcinogenic to humans, and it is listed by California Proposition 65 as known or suspected of causing cancer or birth defects. Studies show that it causes chronic kidney and lever effects and liver cancer.” Since it is not listed as an ingredient in health and beauty and home care products, “it is difficult for consumers to avoid.” Alternative manufacturing processes exist.  

The NY State Drinking Water Council recommends that for 1,4-dioxane, more than 1 part per billion requires treatment. Nassau and Suffolk water suppliers have reported the highest levels of 1,4-dioxane contamination in the nation. It is most prevalent in our Long Island waters with 82 of the 89 wells above the threshold.         

Update: Passed by NYS Senate and NYS Assembly, waiting for governor’s signature to become law.

PFAS-Free Firefighting Foam A.445, S.439 bans the use, manufacture, sale and distribution of firefighting foam containing perfluroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS chemicals two years after the effective date. These bills are to eliminate a major source of drinking water contamination and encourage alternatives. PFAS is associated with cancer, hormone disruption, liver and kidney damage, developmental and reproductive harm and immune system toxicity. There is no safe level of exposure.

Hampton Bays Fire Department was designated as a Superfund site (contamination site) due to groundwater contamination by PFAS.

Update: Passed by NYS Senate and NYS Assembly, waiting for governor’s signature to become law.

“Polluter Pays” A.5377-C, S.3337-C allows public water suppliers and wholesale water suppliers to sue a polluter for damages within three years of water testing that reveals elevated levels of dangerous contaminants in the water supply. This bill makes it easier to hold polluters accountable and helps prevent the costs of remediation from falling on New York taxpayers.

Update: Passed by NYS Senate and NYS Assembly, waiting for governor’s signature to become law.

Restricting Nitrogen Fertilizer A.4568, S.2130 adds to the Environmental Conservation Law to require that only low-level fertilizer with no more than 12 percent nitrogen by weight is sold in Suffolk and Nassau counties. Limits on nitrogen in fertilizers will reduce the nitrogen that runs off during rain. EANY recommends that the bill be extended to cover all of NY state and not be delayed to Dec 31, 2021.

Update: Currently in the Environmental Committee in the Assembly. 

Although the focus of the seminar was on drinking water contaminates, other topics of concern for our water quality were brought up as well; the drop in the aquifer, nitrogen levels and the sewage discharge, lead pipe run off, salt intrusions and septic systems were also noted as major issues affecting water quality. The importance of appropriate standards for detecting contamination was stressed.

Tyrand Fuller of the Suffolk County Water Authority described the water quality mapping and database project known as WaterTraq. It tracks potential threats in the water supply and provides supply information to the public and regulators. It has an interactive map providing the status of LI groundwater for health officials, industry professionals and the public and provides both untreated (raw) water test results and treated water that is sent to the public. http://liaquifercommission.com/watertraq.html.

Another way to find out information about the water quality in your community is at the Suffolk County Water Authority’s Water Quality Report website: http://s1091480.instanturl.net/2019waterreport/water-quality-by-distribution-area-2019-scwa_index.html.

Our fellow Suffolk County residents must be more aware of how fragile and difficult it is to safeguard the quality of our drinking waters. We must continue to educate ourselves and speak loudly for support of legislation dealing with our water crisis. For a list of conference speakers as well as additional resources from expert sites on our drinking water, visit http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org/TakeAction.html.

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

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By Nancy Marr

Concern about the school to prison pipeline has mounted in recent years. At the opening of the first federal hearing on the subject, earlier this year, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said, “For many young people, our schools are increasingly a gateway to the criminal justice system. This phenomenon is a consequence of a culture of zero tolerance that is widespread in our schools and is depriving many children of their fundamental right to an education.” 

Matthew Cregot, an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, explained, “With suspension a top predictor of dropout, we must confront this practice if we are ever to end the ‘dropout crisis,’ or the so-called achievement gap.”

A zero-tolerance policy requires school officials to hand down specific, consistent and harsh punishment — usually suspension or expulsion — when students break certain rules. The punishment applies regardless of the circumstances, the reasons for the behavior (like self-defense) or the student’s history of discipline problems.

These policies developed in the 1990s in response to school shootings and general fears about crime. The school to prison pipeline starts (or is best avoided) in the classroom. When combined with zero-tolerance policies, a teacher’s decision to refer students for punishment can mean they are pushed out of the classroom, and much more likely to be headed toward the criminal justice system.

On May 10, Suffolk County Sheriff Errol D. Toulon Jr. (D) and Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Wheatley Heights) from Babylon brought together experts in juvenile justice, child development, human services, law and trauma to develop A Holistic Approach to Deconstructing the Prison Pipeline.

Testimony at the hearing identified domestic abuse, substance abuse, mental health issues, lack of education and gangs as factors that lead young people into crime, and called for the creation of “safe spaces” for “at-risk” children to receive counseling, recreational activities, job training and education.

Intervention to help a child must recognize that he may be calling out for help, angry at himself and his environment; instead, what he gets is punishment. Significantly, three previously incarcerated women testified that prison had rescued them. It changed their environment by providing for their basic needs, making them follow rules, requiring them to go to school.

Jerri Katzerman, deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that the increase in police in school buildings, called school resource officers, has contributed to the increase in in-school arrests. The vast majority of these arrests are for nonviolent offenses, often for being disruptive.

A recent U.S. Department of Education study found that more than 70 percent of students arrested in school-related incidents or referred to law enforcement are black or Hispanic. Children with special needs are also arrested at a higher rate than others. Instead of pushing children out, Katzerman said, teachers need a lot more support and training for effective discipline, and schools need to use best practices of behavior modification to keep these kids in school where they belong. 

In restorative justice circles, which bring together the student who has committed the crime with the victims and any others who are affected, it is possible to repair the harm, restore relationships and help the student become accountable for his actions. 

Parent groups have successfully worked with school districts to change zero-tolerance policies and adopt schoolwide positive behavior support systems that create a more welcoming environment for children and their parents, encouraging parents to advocate effectively for their children in suspension cases. These are societal issues that will not be solved solely within schools. We need to take action to create a society that meets the needs of all children.

“Deconstructing the prison pipeline is about mobilizing all facets of the community to prevent juvenile delinquency and crime,” said Toulon. “It’s about implementing practical prevention and intervention solutions that will improve people’s lives and make our communities safer.”

You can support programs in your school or community that work for all children, but especially those who need help to overcome the trauma of family problems or mental illness.

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

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By Nancy Marr

After each decennial census, the Constitution requires each state to re-draw the lines for election districts in order to allocate the number of Congressional house seats fairly if they have gained or lost population. In 42 states they are drawn by the state legislature, while in six states they are drawn by independent commissions and in seven states by politician commissions, where elected officials may serve as members. 

We know that technology makes it possible to mine data for many socio-economic factors, but do you realize that candidates who are drawing the lines can access records on political party registrations of the voters in their district and which elections they’ve voted in to configure legislative districts that will protect their incumbency?

Drawing the lines so that members of the opposition party are diluted by being spread out among many districts (“cracking”) or concentrated in only one district (“packing”) denies the right to an equal vote to those in the minority party. 

The Supreme Court had found complaints about apportionment to be a purely political question outside of their purview, but 1962’s decision in Baker v. Carr held that federal courts had a role in forcing states to correct inequities in the makeup of electoral districts, leading to the rule of “one person, one vote.”  Under the Equal Protection clause in the Constitution, inequality in voting power is unconstitutional, especially when it affects the rights of minorities.  

Advocates in many states have challenged gerrymandering in the courts, based on partisanship or race. Currently, many of the cases heard by the Supreme Court have been denied because the plaintiffs lacked standing, without a finding on whether the claims were justifiable. 

The League of Women Voters of the United States and many state and local leagues have been involved in court cases with other groups or on their own. LWVUS is waiting for a decision from the Supreme Court on a gerrymandering case it brought in North Carolina, and leagues in Ohio, Missouri, Michigan, Tennessee and Texas have been involved in challenges to unfair districting or registration practices. The relief that is sought are often independent redistricting commissions to draw the new lines.  

In 2008, Common Cause led an effort to pass Proposition 11 in California. It placed the power to draw electoral boundaries for state Assembly and state Senate districts in a Citizens Redistricting Commission, as opposed to the state Legislature. The act, proposed by the initiative process, amended both the Constitution of California and the Government Code.  

It was passed by the voters in the November 2008 elections and was extended in 2010  to include U.S. House seats as well. It passed by a small margin despite opposition from the California Democratic Party, including Barbara Boxer and Nancy Pelosi, and Asian, Hispanic and African American groups. They argued that it would not prevent politicians from hiding behind the selected bureaucrats, and would not guarantee protection for minority groups. 

HR1, on the 2019 Congressional calendar, includes proposals that would mandate the use of independent commissions and the establishment of redistricting criteria, including racial fairness, protection for communities of interest and a ban on partisan gerrymandering. It would require public hearings before and after a plan is drafted, and a requirement that the responses to public comment be included alongside the final plan. 

The Brennan Center for Justice interviewed a diverse group of 100 stakeholders who were involved with redistricting in state-level redistricting and municipal commissions. It concluded that commissions can significantly reduce many of the worst abuses associated with redistricting but only if the commissions are carefully designed and structured to promote independence and incentivize discussion and compromise.  

Despite efforts to require the use of independent commissions, or amend state constitutions to prohibit gerrymandering, fair competition among candidates can only result if all voters believe their candidate can win. As long as information about party membership or voting patterns is available to those drawing lines, redistricting will not be a blind process. 

Today’s technology and algorithms make it too easy to configure districts that include voters who would consistently return incumbents or elect officials of a given party. For our democracy to prosper, all citizens must have the opportunity to vote and to know that their vote will count.  

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.