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Nancy Marr

United States Supreme Court. Pixabay photo

By Nancy Marr

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

The history

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

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

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

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

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

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

The issue 

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

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

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

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

What is next?

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

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

Photo by Gerard Romano

By Nancy Marr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Members of the Brookhaven Redistricting Committee hear comments from the public at Comsewogue Public Library on Tuesday, Aug. 16.

The Brookhaven Redistricting Committee held a public meeting at Comsewogue Public Library on Tuesday, Aug. 16, to hear comments from residents across the township.

For the third straight week, citizens of Port Jefferson Station/Terryville presented a united front, urging the committee to keep the hamlet intact on the Brookhaven Town Council.

Logan Mazer, a Coram resident whose “map of least change” has received generally favorable reception in recent weeks among the public, addressed why he believes the proposed maps on the redistricting committee’s website would harm communities of interest.

“The two proposed maps make a few edits to the current boundaries that are clearly not acceptable,” he said. “The first, of course, is splitting up Port Jeff Station from the rest of CD1 and including [part of] Mount Sinai. This cannot stand and any new map that this commission considers and any map that the Town Council considers must reunite Council District 1.” He added, “Our priorities need to be keeping communities together.”

Charlie McAteer, corresponding secretary of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, informs the committee of the historic ties between Port Jeff Station and Terryville. Photo by Raymond Janis

‘We have worked hard over the past 15 years … and all of this has been brought forth to get us to this point where we’re redeveloping our area as one vision, one hamlet.’

—Charlie McAteer

Among those in attendance who advocated for preserving Port Jefferson Station/Terryville within CD1 was Charlie McAteer, the corresponding secretary of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association.

“We are one hamlet,” he told the committee. “We have worked hard over the past 15 years — 2008 was the hamlet study for the Comsewogue district — and all of this has been brought forth to get us to this point where we’re redeveloping our area as one vision, one hamlet.”

Joining this cause was John Broven, an East Setauket resident, who compared the current redistricting process to that of 10 years ago. After investigating the 2012 process, Broven found that the committee then had worked collectively as an apolitical, independent unit.

Unlike 2012, Broven suggested that this year’s hearings have been marked by controversy and that he is “genuinely worried at the prospect of gerrymandering … along with the illogical splits between Port Jeff Station/Terryville and also Mount Sinai.”

Nancy Marr, president of the League of Women Voters of Brookhaven, outlined her own displeasure with how the hearings have been advertised to the public.

“In this case, the publicity to inform and involve people has been inadequate,” she said. “I hope next time it’s better. Despite many hearings that were scheduled, most people in Brookhaven Town did not know about them in time to come and participate.”

Shoshana Hershkowitz, a South Setauket resident and a statewide organizer for Citizen Action of New York, discussed the findings of the 2020 U.S. Census, which indicate the changing demographics of Suffolk County residents.

“It is clear that the population of New York state and the population of Suffolk County shifted dramatically,” she said. “We were at 19% minority communities in 2010. We are now at 33% in 2020. That is a 76% increase.”

Despite these demographic changes, Hershkowitz said the two proposed maps on the committee’s website target the two most diverse council districts in Brookhaven: Districts 1 and 4.

“Neither of these districts requires much change,” Hershkowitz said. “They’re both within that 5% deviation,” mandated under town code. She advocated for the transfer of territory from District 6 into District 2: “The logical thing is to move from 6 into 2. Do not disrupt these diverse communities.”

Gordon Heights Civic Association president E. James Freeman spoke on behalf of the residents of Gordon Heights, who presently reside in Council District 4. He reiterated that Districts 2 and 6 are the only ones requiring change, and that any proposal to expand Council District 4 into other areas of the town would dilute the voting power and disenfranchise the people of his community.

“We are always coming in here to be able to fight, to be able to be heard, to be able to be seen, to be able to be represented,” he said. “The weight of the many is often carried by the few. You don’t have a lot of faces in here that look like me but, believe me, things will still get done as long as we have a collective voice across all people.”

METRO photo

By Nancy Marr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

METRO photo

By Nancy Marr

With two of our Long Island landfills closing in the near future, we will have to work together to redesign our way of handling waste.

New York State legislators, looking for ways to reduce the plastics sent to our landfills, have designed EPR bills (Extended Producer Responsibility) which require producers to reduce the amount of plastics they use and make them responsible for their final disposal, relieving municipalities of the cost. The EPR bills were not included in the New York State budget but there is hope that the legislature will pass an EPR bill before the summer.

The good news is that this week a bill that would establish as a state goal to “source reduce, reuse, recycle, or compost no less than eighty-five percent of the solid waste generated by the year 2032” was introduced by New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, chairman of the Committee on Environmental Conservation, and was passed by the Assembly. We anticipate strong support in the State Senate as well.

Think about all the sources of waste on Long Island: three million people in Nassau and Suffolk (each creating almost five pounds of waste per day), thousands of businesses, dozens of municipalities, and all of these having overlapping layers of authority, interests and goals. Not only does untreated waste spread across our globe pose a major threat to our health and environment, but it also represents an unexploited source of raw material that can be used. In other words, we treat waste as garbage rather than a resource.

Current systems for collecting and disposing of household waste are part of a linear economy, often categorized as “take, make, throwaway.” By contrast, a circular economy employs reusing, repairing and refurbishing, remanufacturing and recycling to return us to a system that keeps products, materials, equipment and infrastructure in use for longer; and most importantly, produces less waste.

Fortunately we have begun to implement new ways of using our resources, many recalling systems from the past. Repair Cafes, working under the aegis of the Repair Cafe International, are creating facilities where consumers teach one another to repair their furniture and appliances. This month, a Repair Cafe will open in Greenport at 539 First Street from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on April 23; it will join 2,333 cafes that exist in eight countries. Learn more about this concept at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LctHCGe91gk.

There are also reuse facilities that fix, update, and sell items that have been discarded, taking the concept of a thrift shop closer to a self-supporting business that keeps waste from the landfill. Producers are looking for more markets for the items created by recycling, which would keep them out of the landfill and make recycling programs more effective.

A Fair Repair Act (S149) was introduced last year and passed in the NYS Senate. This would recognize that consumers have a right to repair the devices they own or use independent repair shops, and require that equipment be designed for durability rather than replacement or disposal. Other states have passed many such bills, but it hasn’t passed in the NYS Assembly.

We need to meet the goals of Assemblyman Englebright’s bill if we are to combat climate change. We have the tools to transition to a circular economy, which will reduce the waste in landfills. The EPR programs that have been designed can reduce the plastics in landfills and other waste depositories. But we need local municipalities and community organizations to educate consumers about what to do — what and where to recycle, where to contribute cast-offs so others can use them, how to compost and how to use the compost.

They will need the support of the county government, the farm bureau, local civic associations, community organizations, churches, and local civic associations to provide training and encourage citizen involvement.

Assemblyman Englebright’s bill was passed by a large margin, suggesting that there is broad public support for building a zero waste economy. Each of us can let our county and state legislators know that we are relying on them to lead the way. To find your elected officials, go to https://my.lwv.org.

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

During the pandemic, when we were reminded that farmworkers were working hard to provide food for the rest of us, farmworkers in Suffolk were working for long hours with no break, on farms where they had no running water or toilets, could not take time off to care for their children or family members who had COVID, were often not eligible for overtime and were often undernourished. Although they could be considered “essential workers” they had few resources. The people who work on our farms have long been at the bottom of the food chain. 

The first legislation that was passed was President Franklin Roosevelt’s National Labor Relations Act in 1935. It gave laborers the right to strike for better conditions, but it did not cover agricultural workers or anyone in domestic service. 

Recently, there has been new legislation to increase their rights, but it is not always effective because it may not be enforced. Also, many workers do not know what their rights are or fear that they will lose their jobs if they protest. 

In California, because of the efforts by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta and the United Farm Workers, formed in 1971, the state passed the landmark Agricultural Labor Relations Act in 1975, giving farmworkers in California the right to unionize and negotiate for better wages and working conditions. 

In 2019, New York State passed the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, even though it was opposed by the New York State Farm Bureau. The bill sponsor, Senator Jessica Ramos, said, “The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act has lingered in this body for twenty years, with seven sponsors on both sides of the aide. I have traveled to seven counties in New York, visited fourteen farms, talked to countless farmworkers, and held three hearings on this bill. There are 80-100,000 farmworkers that are the backbone of New York’s multi-billion-dollar agricultural industry.”  

The bill gave farmworkers the right to organize, and the right to bargain collectively but it did not give them the right to strike. The law also required farmers to provide Disability and Workers Compensation coverage, paid family leave, a day off each week, and overtime pay after sixty hours. (The current New York State budget may include help to farmers to pay the overtime pay.) The effectiveness of the law will depend on how much it is publicized.

This year, the first step toward unionization under the new law took place at the Pindar Vineyards in Peconic. The New York State Public Employment Relations Board officially certified Local 388, the union established by Pindar workers with the help of Angel Reyes Rivas, the Long Island Coordinator for the Rural and Migrant Ministry. Located in upstate New York, with an office in Riverhead, the Ministry is a statewide nonprofit organization that works with rural disenfranchised communities, helping them develop their own leadership. 

A group of workers on the East End has found a way through collective action to earn enough money to buy their own land. Last year, they formed the Long Island Farmworker Flower Cooperative with the help of organizers from the Rural and Migrant Ministry. Through the cooperative they support one another and can meet their economic and cultural needs through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise. 

By learning agricultural management, including sales, finance, and accounting, and pooling their resources, they can become producers, buying land and greenhouses for their own flower production. They hope to be independent and be an example for other immigrant communities. To support their efforts, visit the Amandla Long Island Worker Education Center, 573 Roanoke Avenue, Riverhead (631-381-0498) or contact RuralMigrantMinistry.com. For more information, read Mark A. Torres’ Long Island Migrant Labor Camps: Dust for Blood, published in 2021.

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.

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.

Stock photo

By Nancy Marr

Americans have become aware that our system of family care is disjointed and sometimes inaccessible. The pandemic particularly highlighted the problem of childcare, as essential workers had to leave their jobs because their child care resources had closed. The American Rescue Plan (ARP), passed by Congress in 2021, helped day care centers, home and family childcare providers stay open or reopen and provide protective and sanitizing equipment.  

The League of Women Voters of the United States since 1988 has supported programs at all levels of government to expand the supply of affordable, quality childcare for all who need it. The League also participates in the Pre-K Coalition in New York State, advocating for investing in children’s early years to lay the foundation for reading, writing, and math skills. Many Pre-K programs are funded through school districts, open free to parents through a lottery, but frequently for only half a day. 

The Coalition on Human Needs (www.chn.org, July 19) reported that, even before the pandemic, childcare was unaffordable for many families. In many parts of the country, families pay more than $10,000 a year per child for child care. That’s 16% of the median household income, but far more for many families.

New York State has just announced that it will use the funding of $25 million it has received from the federal government for child care scholarships for essential workers, whose income is less than $79,500 for a family of four. Additional federal funding of $105 million granted to New York State in 2021 will be used to expand Pre-K programs; on Long Island, $31.9 million dollars will make it possible to seat 5,200 four year olds, mostly for full-day care. 

This July, through the Child Tax Credit program (which has existed since the 1990’s), parents with joint incomes of $150,000, head of household filers with incomes of $112,500 and single filers with incomes of $75,000 have received the first monthly payment of $300 for each child younger than 6, and $250 for each child between 6 and 17. Parents with incomes up to $170,000 will receive payments but they will be less. The American Rescue Act recently increased the amount of credit and made it possible for families to receive payment each month, beginning in July 2021 with the remaining funds granted at the end of the year with the tax filing.   

Separately, the Earned Income Tax Credit, or the EITC, is a refundable tax credit for low-wage workers that was expanded through the American Rescue Act. For taxable year 2020, parents “earned” between $1,502 to $6,728 depending on their tax-filing status, and the income they earned that year.

President Biden has proposed the American Families Plan and hopes to have it passed. His proposal would pay for universal Pre-K and free community college, an investment in child care of $225 billion over 10 years to federally supported child care providers and $200 billion for free pre-school programs for 3 and 4 year olds, and a cap on child care costs at 7 percent of a family’s earnings. 

The proposal also calls for a national paid family and medical leave. Should ARP not be refunded, the benefit amounts of the child tax credit and the Earned Income Credit will go back to their original amounts. To support the enhanced amounts and monthly distribution, contact your Congressperson. Also write to support the efforts of New York State Senator Todd Kaminsky (D Long Beach) for his support of child care funding.

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, email [email protected] or call 631-862-6860.

Let your voice be heard. METRO photo

By Nancy Marr

The New York State political year will end in June, when the legislative sessions are over. We have only a short time to influence our legislators about issues we care about. We can contact them by phone or letter or email or twitter. Always include the bill number. If the Senator or Assemblyman has supported or co-sponsored the bill you are referring to, thank them and ask them to advocate with leadership to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, and then get it passed. If they did not support It, tell them in your own words why you think it should be supported.  

Twitter is the most effective social media for influencing your legislators. A sample tweet might be @SENATOR bring #SinglePayerHealthCare to the floor for a vote! Vote YES to #New York Health Act!. Even better would be to send your letters or tweets from a group of your friends or colleagues.

Many bills have been submitted that could be passed by the legislature and signed by the governor. Those that follow are supported by the League of Women Voters of New York State.   

Three bills of special interest would continue the modernization of voting that began in the last two years. 

S253 (Myrie)/A1144 (Paulin): Safeguard ballots from technical disqualification where the express intent of a voter is clear. This legislation will safeguard the constitutional right of absentee voters to have their votes counted when there are stray marks or writing on an absentee ballot, as long as the express intent of the voter is unambiguous. This legislation passed in the Senate in Jan. 2021 and is pending in the Assembly Election Law Committee.

S909 (Sanders)/A1044 (Dinowitz): Provide postage paid return envelopes with all domestic mail ballots so that no one is personally burdened in casting their vote. This legislation is in the Election Law Committee in both the Senate and Assembly.

S1046 (Myrie)/A6678(Walker) (The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of NYS): Prevent and redress acts of voter suppression, disenfranchisement and require certain localities to clear local changes to voter access. This legislation is pending in the Election Law Committees in both the Senate and Assembly.

Public Ethics is the subject of a bill to reform the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE):

A6611(Hyndman)/S5254(Biaggi): Remove the political party veto that requires that officials cannot be found guilty of ethical violations without the votes of two members of his or her party. Established in 2011 to ensure compliance with the State’s ethics and lobbying laws, it has been found to lack independence from the Executive and the Legislature. 

Two important health care bills have been introduced:

S6471(Savino)/A4321(Paulin): Allow a terminally ill, mentally capable adult to request life-ending medication from a doctor that the person can self-administer at a time of his or her choosing. Written after studying similar laws in Oregon, Washington, and California among 9 other states that already allow it.

A6058(Gottfried)/S5474(Rivera): Establishes a comprehensive system of access to health insurance for all New York residents, provides for administrative structure of the plan, provides for powers and duties of the board of trustees and five regional councils, establishes the scope of benefits, payment methodologies and care coordination. Establishes the New York Health Trust Fund which would hold monies from a payroll tax like the Medicare tax, establish a temporary commission on implementation of the plan and provide for collective negotiations by health care providers with New York Health. 

Under the proposed legislation, there would be no network restrictions, deductibles, or co-pays. Coverage would be publicly funded and would include outpatient and inpatient medical care, long-term care, primary and preventive care, prescription drugs, laboratory tests, rehabilitative, dental, vision and hearing care. Although this bill has many co-sponsors it is not likely that it will be passed during this session. It is currently in committee in both the Assembly and the Senate.

These are some of the more important bills that the League is endorsing. For more information about any of the bills, find them at https://www.nysenate.gov or https://nyassembly.gov/. Via these websites you can contact your own New York State legislator, and the legislator who sponsored the bill, to support them. 

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.