Constitutional Convention Awareness
What You Need to Know About a New York State Constitutional Convention
What is a constitutional convention? The New York State Constitutional Convention convenes in Albany and has the ability to amend or change any part of the state’s constitution. Any changes agreed to by a majority of the delegates will then go to the public for approval. There are 3 delegates from each of our 63 Senate districts, plus 15 at-large delegates.
When would it take place? On November 7, 2017, New York State voters will have the opportunity to vote on a referendum on whether they would like a constitutional convention to be held. If the referendum passes, a constitutional convention will be held in April 2019.
Why is this important? The convention could result in minor tweaks or radical changes. The state Constitution does much, much more than the national Constitution. Both create a structure and rules for how to govern. But the national Constitution largely stops there. Contrast that to the state Constitution. It sets forth our values and priorities as human beings. Almost every part of our social fabric is included. Schools: Article 11. Health care: Article 11. The rights of workers: Article 1. Care of the poor: Article 17. Treatment of the mentally ill or disabled: Article 17. Environmental protection: Article 14. Housing: Article 18.
What’s at stake? In a Constitutional Convention, all of the above protections are on the chopping block all at once. For example, union members rely upon the state’s constitution to protect their pensions, right to organize and right to collective bargaining. In the current political climate in Albany and all of the so called “Right to Work” legislation happening on a National level, these rights could be stripped away and quickly. Health care and environmental protections will certainly be in peril as well.
Who will be affected? All New Yorkers. A convention is costly. The last convention in 1967 cost taxpayers $6.5 million. In 2017 dollars that will be closer to $50 million. From the ballot vote to the election of delegates to the actual convention could take up to 3 years. The mandatory call for a convention in 1886 was approved; but partisan disputes between the governor and the legislature as to how delegates should be selected delayed its convening for eight years. Hard to imagine the current administration being any more efficient.
How can we change the constitution without a convention? Bills proposing to amend the constitution can be passed through the state legislature, which then are proposed as questions on the ballot during general elections. This isn’t an infrequent occurrence. Our constitution has been amended over 200 times in this way since 1894, and a number of ballot questions were voted on in 2013.
What to watch out for. There is already a campaign started by conservatives to bolster support for a Constitutional Convention. For example, there is this organization called NY People’s Convention: http://nypeoplesconvention.org
Make no mistake. “People’s Convention” is conservative double speak like “Right to Work” or “Clean Coal.”
How can I get involved? Talk to your friends and family about how a constitutional convention could affect them. Call your state legislators and tell them that we can amend the constitution without a costly and dangerous Constitutional Convention.
Further reading and history of the New York State Constitution can be found here: