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Suffolk County League of Women Voters

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By Lisa Scott

Bail is a part of our justice system that seeks to ensure that those who are charged with crimes appear in court to be held accountable. When someone is arrested and charged, the court will set an appearance date with a hearing or trial usually weeks or months away. Prior to bail reform, there were no standards and judges did whatever they wanted for any charge to assess the person’s potential to flee and not return to court. Sometimes quantitative tools that can measure “risk” were used, and those have been found to be plagued with bias. 

If the person cannot pay the bail amount, they remain incarcerated until their case is resolved, either through a settlement, a hearing, a trial, or dismissal. If they post bail, the money is not returned until the case is finalized – which can be months or in some cases, years later (less 9% processing fee).

There is an obvious but complex problem inherent in this system. People with good credit or access to funds can post their own bail and go home. People who have no money or credit are held in jail until trial. For those on the bottom of the totem pole, a simple arrest, guilty or not guilty, can destroy a life, or a family. If they had, for instance, a minimum wage job, their incarceration will almost certainly lead to losing it. What happens to the rest of the family? What happens to any stability they may have had in their lives? The collateral damage of an arrest and even a relatively small but unaffordable bail can bring down the house. Average court costs can be over $15,000. 

The question we ask ourselves is not whether the justice system should continue to use bail, but whether or not the bail system is used justly. In America, we are innocent until proven guilty, but the bail system can end up being incredibly punitive even before guilt is established in court. 

New York State’s 2020 Bail Reform Act provided some relief and created uniform standards. For most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies the law now required judges to release people with the least restrictive conditions necessary to reasonably assure the person will come back to court. Previously, the court could impose cash bail on any offense. The reform codified no cash bail and non-monetary bail conditions and provided for a third option of non-secured or partially secured surety bond (a loan due if the charged fails to appear). 

The Reform was amended in April 2020 to include more situations where judges can impose cash bail. They will also have more discretion in setting bail and other conditions of pretrial release. It did not abolish bail but greatly reduced the role of money and enhanced the rule of law in determining whether defendants will be freed or jailed pending trial. 

The new law, however, came under attack during the 2021 mid-term elections, especially from candidates campaigning on a “law and order” platform. Using a handful of instances of bail abuse, some tried to make generalizations about the new bail rules that data does not support. It is important to remember that bail (in its legal conception) was always about making sure people appear before the court, not punishing them before they’ve had their day in court. 

Results of bail reforms so far have been positive. Pre-covid data sets from state level bail reforms in New Jersey, New Mexico and Kentucky as well as reforms in 4 major cities and 5 counties have indicated decreases in pretrial jail population, decreased or unchanged ”new criminal activity” rates and no increase in recidivism. In New York City, data during covid shows that just under 4% of those released pre-trial under bail reform have been rearrested for violent felonies. 

This is a low percentage, yet this number is used to both support and criticize bail reform. As NYS Senator Julia Salazar of Brooklyn said, “It’s not really about facts. It’s about competing narratives about public safety” (City & State NY January 10, 2022). We must remember that bail reform saves lives and families and evens the playing field. The few cases of bail abuse are not enough to outweigh the benefits of these reforms. We support them every time we say the end the pledge of allegiance with “and Liberty and Justice for all.”

For more information: 

–January 18, 2022 article by Steven B. Wasserman in the New York Law Journal

–Brennan Center’s explanation of the NYS Bail Reform law at  https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/new-yorks-latest-bail-law-changes-explained

–True cost of incarceration at https://finesandfeesjusticecenter.org/articles/who-pays-true-cost-incarceration    

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

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.

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By Nancy Marr

Because of New York State’s identity as the current U.S. “Epicenter” of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on March 7 issued Executive Order 2020, declaring a State disaster for the State of New York, which gives him the power to modify any statute, local law, ordinance, order, rule or regulation if necessary to assist or aid in coping with such disaster. 

An Executive Order, issued on April 24, requires that every voter who is in active or inactive status and is eligible to vote in the primary elections on June 23 shall be sent an absentee ballot application with a postage paid return option.  

Earlier, Gov. Cuomo had announced that he was cancelling the April 28 presidential primary and postponing it to June 23. Then on April 27 the NYS Board of Elections (BOE) canceled the June 23 presidential primary amid pandemic concerns, which means that Bernie Sanders will not  appear on the ballot in the state and Joe Biden, the presumptive nominee, will get all the 274 pledged delegates. 

Gov. Cuomo had added a provision to the state budget earlier this month that allowed the BOE to remove candidates from the ballot if they had dropped out of the race; if Biden were the only nominee left, the BOE could then cancel the election. 

The election on June 23, 2020, thus will combine the state and congressional primaries (the special elections that were scheduled for June 23 will be postponed to the General Election on Nov. 3, 2020). In order to vote in a primary, you must have registered in the party holding the election by Feb. 14, 2020. To be sure that you are registered in a party, visit www.voterlookup.elections.ny.gov. To find out which primary candidates will be on your ballot, check www.Vote411.org.  

Be sure to exercise your right to vote. When you receive the absentee ballot application (mailed if you are eligible to vote on June 23), complete it, checking the box for “temporary illness or disability,“ and return it in the postage paid envelope provided. 

If you do not receive the application, and believe you are eligible to vote in the election, contact the BOE, but you can also obtain an application from your local post office, or go to the BOE website  https://suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/BOE to find an application that you can complete, copy, and return by mail or email. (The Governor has waived the requirement for a signature for this election.) 

When the ballots are finalized, one will be mailed to each voter who has returned an application and is eligible to vote in a primary on June 23. Your completed ballot must be returned in the envelope provided no later than the close of polls on June 23 or postmarked no later than the day before the election.

Regarding future mail-in voting by absentee ballot: The New York State Legislature during the 2019 session passed legislation to remove the specific conditions needed for an absentee ballot. This no-excuse absentee ballot would make it easier to vote. Since it would be a constitutional change, however, it must be passed again by the next legislative session, and then submitted to the electorate in a referendum in 2021. If it passes, it will make permanent the no-excuse absentee ballot that Gov. Cuomo has provided temporarily.  

Separately, State Senator Biaggi and Assemblymember Jacobson introduced a bill this year to amend the election law to define “illness” as ”the spread or potential spread of any communicable disease, at a time of declaration of a state of emergency …” This is still in committee, but, if passed, would make it possible to vote by absentee ballot in all elections held in the future during a state of emergency. Stay safe; make your voice heard.

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 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.

Challenger Will Ferraro and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine during a debate hosted by the Sound Beach Civic Association at the Sound Beach Firehouse Oct. 8. Photo by Kyle Barr

Road issues and health/odor complaints from the town landfill have become a major bane for residents in the Town of Brookhaven, and local incumbents and challengers have made it a major point of their election campaigns.

The Sound Beach Civic Association hosted debates Oct. 8 for Brookhaven town candidates in The Village Beacon Record area as Long Island quickly slides toward Election Day Nov. 5.

The room was flanked with both Republican, Democratic and a few third-party candidates.

Perhaps the most contentious town race is for supervisor, with young Democratic challenger Will Ferraro facing the well-established town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R).

Romaine lauded his and the town’s accomplishments in the seven years since he was first put in office during a special election in 2012. He talked about recent intermunicipal agreements combining districts to save residents money, including ending the Sound Beach and Setauket water districts that gave a small check to residents of those defunct districts.

In terms of roads, Romaine cited the proposed town budget that includes a $150 million pot of funds for the Highway Department from both bonds and reserves from the tentative capital budget.

“I believe in fighting for each and every one of the communities of this town”

– Ed Romaine

Ferraro, who has worked as a legislative analyst for the New York State Assembly and a political activist, spoke of the three main issues of his campaign: the quality of Brookhaven’s roads, a plan to reconfigure the town’s recycling to bring back monthly glass pickup, and a public plan for air quality issues around the town landfill.

“This election is not going to be about credentials, it’s about credibility,” he said.

When an audience member’s question was brought up about the town’s website, saying that it was purposefully convoluted, the supervisor said the town has worked hard to make everything easily available and to make town matters transparent. Ferraro retorted, “I agree with [Romaine] I don’t think it’s intentional, they really think that’s what a website is supposed to look like in 2019.”

The landfill was recently cited by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation over odor complaints and was ordered to spend $150,000 on the landfill or face a fine of $178,000. Romaine said the odor complaints were from last December and occurred because of the process of currently capping portions of the site in the Brookhaven hamlet. The town is looking to set aside $20 million to deal with the impact of the landfill closing in 2024.

“We are definitely going to look at how we are going to handle solid waste — that is something we will be working with all the communities in Brookhaven,” he said.

Ferraro responded that Romaine was diluting the complaints that residents living close to the landfill have had, both in terms of odor and health issues they claim have come from the dump. He criticized Romaine for leaving his state appointment to the Long Island Regional Planning Council in 2018 and said more needs to be done to test the air quality in the area surrounding the landfill.

The day of the debate, Newsday had published its endorsement for Romaine, who held up a printout to show to the audience. Ferraro said, “that endorsement will be in Newsday tomorrow, it will also be in my cat’s litter box tomorrow,” to the moans of several audience members.

Though he had planned to attend the debate, town Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) had to cancel at the last minute, and his second-time Democratic challenger Anthony Portesy spoke up instead about his plans to remedy town road issues.

He advocated for his six-point plan, complaining about the town’s practices of “mill and fill” for fixing roads with topcoats that crumble in a short time and for not fixing drainage issues. He also talked about creating a priority list by working with the town council, and then posting that publicly online to see which roads are getting done based on the level of funding. He also called for the need to advocate for more state and federal funding for road repairs.

“We need to get out of this duct tape and Band-Aid operation,” he said. “I want to make sure we’re creating a long-term mission for the Town of Brookhaven.”

Democrat Sarah Deonarine is challenging Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) for the District 2 seat.

Bonner said the issue with recycling was the market has collapsed, a problem not just for Brookhaven but for every municipality across the U.S. Since the market for glass has fallen through the floor, the town has been taking glass at drop-off sites and using them for lining the landfill.

“What is better recycling than that?,” she said.

Regarding the landfill, she said the town has steadily increased its landfill closure account to deal with the impacts of when there will be nowhere on the island left to dump ash or debris, though they have taken the odor complaints “very seriously.” She said the best plan is to turn the landfill into an “energy park.” 

On the issue of recycling the Democratic challenger cited other towns that currently accept other materials, promising to model their collection system after them. She also called out the town’s response to the DEC’s order regarding the landfill. She said she has “connections” around the island, and with those they could start a work group that could look at the health impacts of the landfill.

“The town should recognize that people are getting sick there, set up our own [odor] hotline, and invest in the people in the area to get better,” she said.

On Monday, Oct. 14, the Sound Beach Civic Association will host a second debate moderated by the Suffolk County League of Women Voters between Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and her Republican challenger Gary Pollakusky at the Sound Beach Firehouse located at 152 Sound Beach Blvd. People can come at 6:30 p.m. to write out questions for the debate starting at 7:30 p.m.

Early voting starts Oct. 26, with election day set for Tuesday, Nov. 5. Check back here at The Village Beacon Record Oct. 31 for our annual election issue, featuring debates with all local candidates in our coverage area.