Friday, February 17, 2017

Testimony Continues and Constitutional Convention Talk in Utica


This week the legislature continued their budget hearings and negotiations. On Monday the Environmental budget hearing was interrupted by protesters fighting for climate change justice. This is the second budget hearing that was temporarily halted due to protesters (the first was last week during the Tax hearing). These are the same protesters who staged a sit in in Governor Cuomo’s office earlier this year. Some protesters had been arrested during that demonstration but luckily no one was arrested Monday and after several minutes of chanting the group filed out of the hearing room. Some attempted to return later and ultimately the guards resorted to locking one set of doors so that no one could sneak through.

Tuesday was an extremely busy day. The Education Budget testimony occupied much of our attention. Although we were not given the opportunity to testify this year we did submit testimony to the committee. You can read our overview of the budget here. We sat in for much of Commissioner Elia’s testimony and were pleased to see such a heavy focus on the need for more support for English as a second language students. In the morning we attended the Assembly Election law Committee meeting. Two of our priority bills were moved. The Voter Friendly Ballot Act (memo here) and legislation to close the LLC loophole (memo here) were both voted through the committee. We later attended the Assembly Health Committee where we monitored the NY Health Act, also known as the Single Payer bill (more information here). The bill was passed through the committee with Assembly Republicans opposing the legislation. Surprisingly, the minority ranker, Assemblyman Raia, did not allow his conference to debate the bill. He told the Chairman “We’ll save our debate for the floor”.

Later that day we were elated when the Assembly passed a package of judicial reforms including Raise the Age. The League is very supportive of raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18 and we were delighted to see this bill pass in the Assembly so early in the session. We hope that the Senate will act quickly on this reform.

On Thursday the State League hosted it’s fifth Constitutional Convention forum in Utica with support of our Utica/Rome League. We had a great turnout and fantastic discussion from the audience. For more on our Utica/Rome League visit their website: http://www.lwvuticarome.org/
We will be hosting a fifth forum on February 28th in Binghampton at the Vestal Public Library. More information on that forum can be found on the Broome Tioga website: http://www.lwv-broometioga.org/

Friday, February 10, 2017

Dueling Voting Reform Packages

This week the League was very pleased to see two major pushes for voting reforms – one from Senate Democrats and a second from the Attorney General.

On Monday we stood with the Senate Democratic Conference as they announced their package of voting reform bills. The package includes many reforms that the League has long supported including early voting, consolidation of primaries, automatic voter registration, and ballot reform. You can read more about the proposed legislation here. We were very happy to see the conference roll out this package but we will need to work extremely hard to get Senate Republicans on board with these bills.


Tuesday morning we attended the annual budget briefing given by Fiscal Policy Institute.  It is an informative session that both advocates and legislators attend.  The questions for the FPI staff Economists centered around the probable Federal cuts and their impact on New York's budget. The Taxation budget hearing held that same day was interesting this year for two reasons.  The hearing was interrupted twice by protesters, which has never before. Assemblyman Farrell tried strenuously to get them to leave, finally Troopers came in and the protesters left.  The questions centered again on the impact of possible congressional cuts to the state budget.  

On Wednesday the Attorney General unveiled his own voting reforms package.  The AG’s list of proposals was quite a bit longer and more comprehensive than the reforms put forward by the Democratic Conference. His reforms were motivated by the massive issues New York Voters faced on Election Day 2016. The reforms would not only empower voters by instituting common sense reforms such as early voting and no-excuse absentee voting; but would also protect voters from unfair treatment on Election Day through enhanced poll worker training and protections against improper ballot challenges. Our Vice President of Issues and Advocacy, Sally Robinson, spoke at the press conference. You can see his full proposal package here


We are so pleased to see a renewed passion for election law reforms from our elected officials. The League has fought for decades – nearly a century – to repair our broken election system.  As we move closer to the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote, and our own 100th anniversary, we are even more impassioned to fight for these reforms. This legislative session we will do everything in our power to see that voting is not put on the back burner by our legislature or our governor! We will pass these common sense reforms! 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Planned Parenthood Lobby Day


The week began on an exciting note – Monday was the annual Family Planning Advocates (FPA) Lobby Day. This year the event was held for the first time since the Spritzer administration in the Convention Center. The annual gathering recently has been held in the Well of the Legislative Office Building but due to the November election and the threats to women’s reproductive choices, 1,700 advocates filled the Convention Center almost to capacity.  Many advocates told their stories about how they became involved with Planned Parenthood. The President of Planned Parenthood US, Cecile Richards,  spoke later in the afternoon about the need for New York State to stand strong against any threats to reproductive health. The sea of pink that filled the convention center was a throwback to FPA’s rallies in the 1980’s and a reaffirmation that NY continues to have a strong commitment to women’s rights.

The governor surprised the audience and showed up as the final speaker. You can watch his full speech here. He spoke eloquently about women’s health and New York’s commitment to immigrants and people of all faiths. Following the rally we were invited to the Governor’s Mansion for lunch with the Governor. We were able to have a conversation with him about his renewed commitment to women’s health and we applauded him for being a leader on this issue.


We returned to the Capitol to monitor the Assembly Election Law Committee. There are several new committee members including a new Republican chair. The Committee passed two bills which the League supports – a bill on allowing the Board of Elections to use voter’s email address to transmit information and a bill on consolidation primary elections in New York State to a single June primary. 
Later that day we testified at the Local Government/General Government budget hearing. We reiterated our recommendations on ethics and campaign finance reforms and highlighted the need for additional funding to be set aside for public education on the upcoming Constitutional Convention ballot question. You can read our full testimony here.  Two of the Committee members thanked the League for our tireless efforts to making government responsive to its constituents.


On Tuesday we submitted testimony to the Joint Committee on Public Protections. The testimony focused on election law reforms and the need for additional funding for the Board of Elections so that they can beef up their cyber security measures. You can read our full testimony here


Over the next two weeks the League will continue to focus on the executive budget. We intend to testify and submit testimony to a total of six committees this year. Stay tuned for more testimony! 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Women's March and Healthcare Concerns

This week National politics were at the forefront of our minds. Saturday January 21st the League participated in the Women’s March on Washington. Leagues from all over the country made their way to DC to show their concern for the current state of affairs in Washington.  Our local Leagues participated in sister marches all over the state. They marched in NYC, Albany, Glens Falls, Seneca Falls, Sag Harbor, Hudson, Ithaca, Utica, Rochester, and Syracuse. Some members even made the long journey to our Nation’s Capital. Many members have shared their personal experiences with us; all were very moved by the passion and energy of the marchers. They marched alongside their daughters and in some cases their granddaughters! Some members were disheartened to see the issues they had fought for over three decades ago brought back to the surface. Others were proud to see so many women and men engaged in such an important movement. We are thankful for everyone who chose to participate in the march and we hope that we can keep this momentum going as we move forward in 2017.

As the legislative session continues we turn our attention away from reproductive health and towards general health care. On Monday we met with Assemblyman Gottfried, Chair of the Assembly Health Committee. Assemblyman Gottfried has always been an ally of the League and we have had the pleasure of working with his office on many important healthcare issues. The Assemblyman and his staff briefed us on the current state of healthcare in New York State and helped us understand the risk our state faces should the ACA be repealed by Congress. We will be testifying on Health during the upcoming budget negotiations and plan to highlight these concerns.


We kept our focus on healthcare on Tuesday and sent memos of support for two important healthcare bills – read our memos here and here. Both bills were advanced to the Assembly Codes committee.
In addition to our legislative work this week we presented two public forums on the upcoming Constitutional Convention question. On Election Day of this year all New York State voters will be faced with the question of whether or not to hold a Constitutional Convention. The League is currently working to educate our members and the public on this important issue. For more information visit our website. This week we presented in Albany and Saratoga. We will continue our presentations until the question is put out to the voters on Election Day. To request a public forum in your area contact our State League office at lwvny@lwvny.org

We end this blog on a somewhat sour note. This week our new President called for a National investigation into the 2016 election. It is his belief that this election involved massive voter fraud – particularly in New York and California. There is absolutely no credible evidence to support this claim and we do not believe an investigation is warranted. Our National League has issued the following statement which we fully agree with:

“President Trump is calling for a major investigation into voter fraud - in an election that he won! We know that wide-spread voter fraud is a myth perpetuated to push election laws that restrict voting.  We cannot allow false claims to drive policies that will limit participation in our election process. There is no need for an investigation into a non-existent problem. The issue has been studied and put to rest.”