Assemblywoman Galef said today that New York State is in dire need of a constitutional convention. “Our legislative process has broken down and our citizens suffer the negative consequences,” Galef said. “We must pass legislation, which I co-sponsor (Brodsky, A.4271), immediately in 2010 so that we can ask the voters in 2010 or 2011 whether to hold a constitutional convention. It is also imperative to change the convention delegate selection so that special interests don’t prevail which I propose in my legislation (A.5277).”
The state constitution can be changed in two ways. One, the state constitution mandates that in every general election held at twenty-year intervals, voters must be asked whether they want a constitutional convention. Two, the state legislature can approve a proposed convention amendment in two successive, regular legislative sessions before submitting it to the voters. In both cases, the majority of the voters must approve the ballot measure before it can take effect.
The state constitution was last amended in 1938. In 1967, when the last constitutional convention took place, voters did not ratify what was produced. In 1997, voters rejected holding a convention. The next time voters will be asked whether they desire a constitutional convention is in 2017. The state legislature can approve a constitutional amendment any year.
“We are working under the constraints of a constitution that is over seventy-years old”, said Galef. “We are facing twenty-first century challenges and we must modify our ways of governing to meet those challenges and thrive. We must do so while earning the trust and respect of the public, and we can only earn that respect through non-partisanship, transparency, and fairness. At a constitutional convention, we could redraw our legislative districts in a non-partisan fashion (A.6878) that was supported by 75% of my constituents, reform the budget process with an Independent Budget Office (A.5925), relieve the property tax burden on our homeowners through a state takeover of Medicaid (A.7217), and modernize the legislative proceedings through use of technology (A.6340). We also must lay out the constitutional means by which a lieutenant governor vacancy is filled. The lieutenant governor vacancy contributed greatly to the stalemate in the New York State Senate this past June, 2009.”
Opponents to past constitutional conventions have succeeded in convincing the public that has grown more cynical and distrustful of politicians and the political process that their concerns would not be addressed. To guarantee inclusion and transparency, as well as address the public’s reservations about a convention run by elected officials, Galef introduced legislation (A.5277) prohibiting elected officials from qualifying as delegates to a state constitutional convention. All elected officials from Governor to village trustee could not serve as delegates.
Galef stated that, “We need to change the law so that citizens, not elected officials, participate.” The New York State League of Women Voters echoed this position when they declared in their June, 1993 Statement of Position that “present office holders should not be eligible to serve as delegates.” The Center for Voting and Democracy also issued a statement calling for reform of the delegate elections. Most recently, in 2009, Blair Horner, Executive Director, of the New York Public Interest Research Group stated that changing the way delegates are elected is critical.
Galef joins a variety of officials representing different interests and ideologies who support a constitutional convention. They include officials such as: New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo; former Mayor Giuliani; former Governor Mario Cuomo; New York State Assembly colleagues Brodsky, Kolb, and Thiele; Senators LaValle and Volker; organizations such as the Mohawk Valley Chamber of Commerce; and various business and taxpayer groups.