Sunday, June 24, 2018

Initiative & Referendum History in NY

In U.S. Politics, the Terms Initiative and Referendum (I&R) refer to Processes that allow Citizens of many States to Vote Directly on Particular Pieces of Legislation. An Initiative Process allows Citizens to Propose or Initiate a Statute or Constitutional Amendment by Collecting a sufficient number of Signatures to put their Proposals on the November General Election Ballot.

In 1907 the Attorney and “Prominent Club Woman” Mrs. Harriet M. Johnston-Wood of New York City helped Organize the State Direct Legislation League. Hamilton Holt was Elected President of the Group. The League proved ineffective.

In July 1909 Equity reported: “The introduction of I&R in the New York legislature seems to have been taken as a joke. It was referred to committee, and we find no other allusion to it.”

In 1911 the Initiative & Referendum (I&R) Movement again Failed in New York.

In 1914 Equity told its Readers that Tammany Hall's recent Electoral Defeat should help I&R, but later Reported that Despite the Decline of New York City's Machine, “the legislature in Albany was still sufficiently in the control of reactionary leaders not to take any definite action in favor of I&R.”

By mid-1917, Buffalo's Referendum Provision was the only Example of Direct Legislation in the State. Over the years the Legislature proved willing to allow Limited I&R in Local Jurisdictions, but never at the Statewide Level. The most important such I&R Provision is the Section of the New York City Charter that allows Voters to propose a Charter Amendment by Petition of 50,000 Registered Voters, about 2% of the City's Voters. Today, you would need 88,415.

It was last Successfully used in 1966 when Police Officers Petitioned for, and Voters Approved, an Amendment giving the Police more Control over the Civilian Review Board that had been set up to Investigate Citizens' Complaints about the Police.

New Yorkers Petitioned in the late 1960s for an Anti-Vietnam War Initiative.

In 1985, for an Initiative to Prohibit Harboring Ships with Nuclear Weapons, but State Courts Ruled against Ballot Placement on the Ground that these were Not Proper Subjects to go into a City Charter.

In 1999, Governor George Pataki in his First “State of the State” Address called for the Establishment of the I&R process, however, the State Legislature wasn’t Interested in Supporting Establishing the Process.

In 2002, Pataki once again called for the Legislature to Pass a Constitutional Amendment establishing the I&R process. The Proposal was strongly Supported by the State’s Independence Party, Conservative Party, and Republican Party. In April, the New York Senate Passed the Initiative Amendment with only Three Dissenting Votes. However, the State Assembly never Acted on the Governor’s Proposal.

The New York Initiative and Referendum Amendment did not make the November 8th, 2016 Ballot as a Legislatively Referred Constitutional Amendment. The Measure, upon Voter Approval in November, would have Provided for an I&R process in New York. The New York Constitution requires a Majority Vote in Two Successive Sessions of the New York State Legislature in Order to Qualify the Amendment to appear on the November Ballot. The Legislature did Not Act on the Measure before Adjourning on June 16th, 2016.

With the New York City Mayor's 2018 Charter Revision Commission, currently deciding what will be on the 2018 General Election Ballot, and the New York City Council's 2019 Charter Revision Commission, we need to get an I&R Question on the 2019 General Election Ballot if not on 2018's Ballot.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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