Should New York State change its constitution?

October 04, 2017 07:06 PM

ALBANY -- Politics may be dry. But there hasn't been a dull moment at the State Capitol, with scandal after scandal. Some top lawmakers were convicted on corruption. That's partly why a constitutional convention seems attractive to some. They want ethics reform.

"Proponents of constitutional convention say the only way to do that is through a constitutional convention where the people are making the decision on how to change the behavior in Albany," said Jim Malatras, president of the Rockefeller Institute of Government.

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Malatras said the organization doesn't take a position on the matter. But the process to change the state constitution is extremely important, he added. Voters get the question every 20 years whether to hold a constitutional convention. The last it happened was back in 1967. Ethics reform is not the only issue at stake.

"People have the right to bring up whatever issues they want to bring up," Malatras said.

The institute received 106 suggestions that include making healthcare a right. There's also the fear instead of adding or amending, certain rights could be taken away.

"Historically we've added a lot more rights than we've taken away," said Andrew Ayers, director of the Government Law Center at Albany Law School.

Ayers said one of the biggest worries is protections of state employee pensions.

"People have protection and they're very afraid of losing them. Of course you can understand why that would be true," Ayers said.

Opponents say the process could be hijacked by insiders because convention delegates have to be elected by Senate districts and the same campaign finance rules apply.

"It's rigged to favor the incumbents, which happens to be the Republicans who have done nothing over the past decade to protect fundamental rights," said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman.

Ultimately, the voters have the final say. Even if there's a constitutional convention, whatever the delegates propose has to be approved by the public.


Dan Bazile

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