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Stories about New York

New York Legislature refers two voting policy constitutional amendments to November ballot

Voters in New York will decide constitutional amendments at the election on November 2, 2021, to authorize no-excuse absentee voting and same-day voter registration. Currently, the state constitution requires voters to be absent from their county of residence, ill, or physically disabled to vote with an absentee ballot. It also requires that persons must register to vote at least ten days before an election, thus prohibiting same-day voter registration.

To refer constitutional amendments to the ballot, the New York State Legislature must approve them by a simple majority vote in each chamber during two successive legislative sessions with an election for state legislators in between. Both of the constitutional amendments were previously approved in 2019. On January 11, 2021, the state Senate voted 50 to 13 to pass the no-excuse absentee voting amendment. Democrats, along with seven Republicans, voted in favor of the proposal. Thirteen Republicans voted against the proposal. On January 12, the Senate voted 42 to 20 to pass the same-day voter registration amendment. Democrats supported the proposal, and Republicans opposed the proposal. On May 11, 2021, the state Assembly voted to pass both constitutional amendments, sending them to the ballot for voter consideration.

As of April 2021, 20 states and D.C. allow for same-day voter registration, including neighboring Connecticut and Vermont. New York is one of 16 states that require an excuse to receive an absentee ballot. Thirty-four states and D.C. provide for no-excuse absentee voting (or provide every voter with a mail-in ballot), meaning any voter can apply to receive an absentee ballot and vote by mail.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, absentee voting was temporarily extended in New York to any voter ‘unable to appear personally at the polling place of the election district in which they are a qualified voter because there is a risk of contracting or spreading a disease causing illness to the voter or to other members of the public.’  

Since 1995, an average of 1.5 constitutional amendments appeared on odd-year ballots in New York. As of May 12, four constitutional amendments had been approved for the November election. In addition to the two voting policy amendments, voters will also decide an amendment to make changes to the redistricting process in New York and an amendment to create a state constitutional right to clean air, clean water, and a healthful environment.

An additional two constitutional amendments could appear on the ballot, bringing the total up to six measures. These two amendments would increase the NYC Civil Court’s jurisdiction from civil cases involving $25,000 to $50,000 and remove the wartime service requirement for veterans to receive civil service credits.

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Voters to decide Lackawanna City (N.Y.) School District elections on May 18

The general election for Lackawanna City School District in New York is May 18. The filing deadline to run passed on April 29. 

Five candidates will be on the nonpartisan ballot. Incumbents Kimberly Bukaty, Leonard Kowalski, and Mohamed Munassar face challengers Raymond Braxton and Azaldeen Mohamed. Bukaty was appointed to the board in March to replace Nicholas Trifilo. Incumbent Mark Kowalski did not file for re-election.

Candidates are competing for four of seven seats on the board. The three trustees with the highest number of votes will be elected to three-year terms, and the trustee with the fourth-highest number of votes will be elected to a two-year term.

Lackawanna City School District served 1,944 students during the 2018-2019 school year and comprised four schools.

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Here’s a round-up of this week’s redistricting news: May 5, 2021

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released apportionment counts for the U.S. House of Representatives, kicking off the 2021-2022 redistricting cycle. Throughout this year and next, policymakers (including state legislators, governors, and special redistricting commissions) will draft and implement new state legislative and congressional district maps, which will remain in force for the next 10 years. Beginning today, we will provide weekly updates on major redistricting events across all 50 states.

Oklahoma lawmakers unveil draft maps for state legislature: On April 21, Oklahoma lawmakers released their proposed district maps for the state senate and house of representatives, making Oklahoma the first state in the 2021-2022 cycle to produce draft maps. In lieu of final 2020 census data, which has not yet been made available to the states, lawmakers used the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data for 2015 through 2019 to draft their proposals.

Release of apportionment counts triggers lawsuits in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania: On April 26, Democracy Docket filed three separate lawsuits on behalf of registered voters in three states, asking courts in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania to intervene and set up timelines for enacting court-drawn maps for the 2022 election cycle “in the near-certain event” that governors and legislatures in each state fail to do so. The substantive language used in the three suits is similar. All three allege that “there is no reasonable prospect that … political branches will reach consensus to enact” lawful district maps in a timely manner because the three states operate under divided governments (i.e., both the Democratic and Republican parties control at least one of the following: the governorship, the upper chamber of the state legislature, and the lower chamber).

New York Gov. Cuomo mulls legal challenge over loss of congressional seat: On April 27, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) told reporters that he was considering the state’s “legal options” with respect to New York’s loss of one congressional seat to reapportionment. According to estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau, the state could have kept the seat if 89 additional New York residents had been counted. Cuomo said, “Do I think it was accurate within 89? No. And we’re looking at legal options. Because when you’re talking about 89, that could be a minor mistake in counting.” According to Janna Johnson, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs, no state has ever succeeded in challenging apportionment counts in court.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court appoints chairman of state legislative redistricting commission: On May 3, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced the appointment of Mark Nordenberg as chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission. Nordenberg, Chair of the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute of Politics, joins Sen. Majority Leader Kim Ward (R), Sen. Minority Leader Jay Costa (D), House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R), and House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton (D). The state supreme court appointed Nordenberg as chairman after the four other members of the commission failed to agree on an appointment. The commission has the sole authority to draft and implement new state legislative district maps.

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New apportionment data released – six states gain congressional seats, seven states lose seats

On April 26, 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau released it post-2020 census apportionment counts. Six states—Texas (two seats), Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon—gained seats. Seven states—California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia—each lost a seat.

Of the six states that gained congressional seats, three are Republican trifectas (Texas, Florida, and Montana), meaning Republicans control the governorship and majorities in both state legislative chambers in each. Two (Colorado and Oregon) are Democratic trifectas, and one (North Carolina) is a divided government.

Of the seven states that lost congressional seats, three (California, Illinois, and New York) are Democratic trifectas, two (Ohio and West Virginia) are Republican trifectas, and two (Michigan and Pennsylvania) are divided governments.

What is apportionment, and how does it work? Every ten years, the nation conducts the census, a complete count of the U.S. population. The data gleaned from the census determines congressional apportionment. Apportionment is the process by which the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are allotted to the states on the basis of population, as required under Article I, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution. A state can gain seats in the House if its population grows – or lose seats if its population decreases – relative to populations in other states.

After the first census (1790), the 105 members of U.S. House represented about 34,000 residents each. Now, the 435 members of the House will represent an average of 761,169 residents each.

The 2020 census: According to the 2020 census, the resident population of the United States, as of April 1, 2020, was 331,449,281, representing a 7.4 percent increase over the 2010 population. California remained the most populous state with 39,538,223 residents. The population of Texas, the only state to gain multiple congressional seats from apportionment, grew by nearly 4 million residents between 2010 and 2020, reaching 29,145,505. Utah was the fastest-growing state: its population increased by 18.4 percent between 2010 and 2020, reaching 3,271,616.

The census is a complex undertaking. First, the Census Bureau collects data. This involves making a list of every residence (including houses, apartments, dorms, etc.) in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the five U.S. territories; asking members of each household in the country to complete the census survey; and following up with those households that did not submit surveys. The Census Bureau then must process the data. This involves making a final list of residential addresses, cross-checking for duplicate responses, and processing write-in responses. The Census Bureau also uses imputation, a statistical method applied “in rare instances” that enables the Census Bureau “to fill in missing information using what we already know about an address and its nearest, similar neighbor.” Typically, upon final processing of the data, the Census Bureau delivers state population and apportionment counts by December 31 in the year of the census. Detailed redistricting data follows by April 1 of the next year.

On November 19, 2020, Census Bureau Director Steve Dillingham announced that, “during post-collection processing, certain processing anomalies [had] been discovered.” Dillingham said that he had directed the bureau “to utilize all resources available to resolve this as expeditiously as possible.” On January 27, 2021, Kathleen Styles, a Census Bureau official, announced that the final apportionment report would be delivered by April 30, 2021.

What comes next: The Census Bureau has not yet delivered redistricting data to the states. Upon announcing the 2020 apportionment counts, Acting Census Bureau Director Ron Jarmin said, “Our work doesn’t stop here. Now that the apportionment counts are delivered, we will begin the additional activities needed to create and deliver the redistricting data that were previously delayed due to COVID-19.” The Census Bureau expects to deliver the raw data to the states by August 16. The “full redistricting data with toolkits for ease of us” will be delivered by September 30.

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New York voters will decide $3 billion environment and climate change projects bond measure in 2022

On April 19, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed Senate Bill S2509C, which referred a $3 billion bond measure to the November 2022 ballot. The bill was part of the state budget and contained multiple other provisions.

The ballot measure would issue $3.00 billion in general obligation bonds for projects related to the environment, natural resources, water infrastructure, and climate change, according to the bond legislation.

Revenue from the bond issue would be distributed as follows:

• not less than $1.00 billion for flood risk reduction, coastal rehabilitation, shoreline restoration, and ecological restoration projects;

• up to $700.00 million for projects designed to mitigate the impacts of climate change, such as those related to green buildings, carbon sequestration, urban forest and habitat restoration, reduce the urban heat island effect, reduce and eliminate air pollution in environmental justice communities, and reduce and eliminate water pollution in environmental justice communities;

• up to $550.00 million for land conservation and recreation plans, programs, and projects, and fish hatcheries; and

• not less than $550.00 million for projects related to wastewater, sewage, and septic infrastructure, lead service line replacement, riparian buffers, stormwater runoff reduction, agricultural nutrient runoff reduction, and addressing harmful algal blooms.

The ballot measure would define environmental justice communities as “minority or low-income [communities] that may bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or the execution of federal, state, local, and tribal programs and policies.”

This bond measure was originally put on the 2020 ballot but was withdrawn in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Between 1990 and 2020 in New York, statewide ballots featured seven bond issues. Voters approved three (43 percent) of the bond issues. Voters rejected four (57 percent) of the bond issues. Two of the bond issues were for projects related to the environment. One of them, a $1.975 billion bond in 1990, was defeated. The other, a $1.75 billion bond in 1996, was approved.

Twenty-four statewide ballot measures have been certified in 14 states for the 2022 ballot so far. From 2012 through 2020, the average number of statewide measures certified for the ballot by the third week in April of the previous year was 21.

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Costa Constantinides resigns from New York City Council

Costa Constantinides resigned from the New York City Council on April 9 after announcing he would leave to take a position as CEO of the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens on March 31. Constantinides had served as the District 22 representative since 2013. His current term was set to expire on Dec. 31, 2021.

The New York City Council is the city’s primary legislative body. It is responsible for adopting the city budget, approving mayoral appointees, overseeing the use of municipal properties, levying taxes, and making or amending city laws, policies, and ordinances.

The New York City Council is composed of 51 members, each of whom are elected in partisan elections by the city’s fifty-one districts. The current partisan composition is 45 Democrats and three Republicans with three vacancies. The city’s charter requires Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) to schedule a special election to fill the vacancy left by Constantinides’ departure.

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New York becomes third state to legalize recreational marijuana through legislative action instead of a ballot measure

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a bill on March 31 legalizing recreational marijuana and allowing resentencing for those convicted of certain marijuana-related charges.

Both chambers of the legislature passed the bill (Assembly Bill 1248/Senate Bill 854) on March 30.

New York became the 15th state to legalize recreational marijuana. In addition, South Dakota voters approved a marijuana legalization initiative in November 2020, but it was overturned by a circuit court ruling, which was appealed to the South Dakota Supreme Court. Fifteen additional states have decriminalized recreational marijuana.

New York was the third state, after Vermont and Illinois, to legalize recreational marijuana through legislative action instead of a voter-approved ballot measure. The first nine states to legalize recreational marijuana did so through citizen-initiated ballot initiatives. 

Responding to legalization in New York, Steve Hawkins, executive director at the Marijuana Policy Project, said, “We expect 2021 to be a record-breaking year for legislatures legalizing cannabis.” 

Marijuana laws in the United States

Details of New York’s bill:

The bill allows the possession of up to three ounces of marijuana and allows each person to grow up to three mature marijuana plants with a cap of six mature plants per household. The legalization of possession and home-grow goes into effect immediately.

The bill establishes the Office of Cannabis Management to license and regulate recreational marijuana retail and distribution. The new office will also take over the regulation of medical marijuana sales. The office will be run by a board consisting of three members appointed by the governor, one member appointed by the Assembly, and one appointed by the Senate. The bill does not establish a specific date by which legal recreational marijuana sales would begin, but state officials estimated it would be between 18 months and two years. The bill also establishes an advisory board for the office.

The bill will create expungement and resentencing processes for anyone convicted on a charge that is no longer a crime under the new law. It would also allow for the expungement of certain convictions that occurred prior to the state’s 2019 decriminalization law but for which sentences were reduced or removed by decriminalization.

The bill provides for a 13% excise tax on retail marijuana sales. It also enacts a tax ranging from $0.03 to $0.08 per milligram of THC for wholesale to dispensaries. Gov. Cuomo’s office estimated revenue of $350 million annually. Revenue above what is required for administration and enforcement would be allocated to the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund, general education through the State Lottery Fund, the Drug Treatment and Public Education Fund, and local municipal and county governments.

The bill allows for cities, towns, and villages to pass local laws prohibiting certain retail establishments and regulating certain aspects of the operation of retail establishments. The bill also contains a process for local voters to overturn local legislation banning recreational marijuana retail.

Comparing New York’s bill with legalization measures in other states

Among the 13 marijuana legalization ballot measures that have passed in other states, all but one explicitly allowed a certain amount of local government control over marijuana regulation. Excise taxes on marijuana sales ranged from an initial rate of 3.75% (subject to increase) in Massachusetts to 25% in Washington. The average tax rate was about 13%. The New Jersey ballot measure applied the state’s sales tax to marijuana but prohibited an additional excise tax.

Seventeen states and D.C. have enacted laws expunging past marijuana convictions, sealing marijuana crime records, or establishing set-aside policies that apply to marijuana-related convictions.

For a comparison of details on possession limits, tax rates, home grow regulations, local control, and revenue allocation among all recreational marijuana ballot measures approved so far, click here.

As of March 2021, 15 states and Washington, D.C., had legalized marijuana for recreational purposes. Eleven states and D.C. did so through citizen initiatives, one through a legislatively referred constitutional amendment, and three, including New York, through bills approved by state legislatures and signed by governors. An additional 15 states had decriminalized recreational marijuana usage. Based on 2019 population estimates, roughly 40% percent of Americans lived in a jurisdiction with legalized recreational marijuana as of March 2021.

In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana when voters approved legalization initiatives.

In January 2018, Vermont was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana without voters approving a citizen initiative. Illinois was the second state to legalize recreational marijuana without a voter-approved citizen initiative.

In 2020, New Jersey was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana through voter approval of a legislatively referred measure, rather than a citizen-initiated one.

New York Court of Appeals justice retires, creating midterm vacancy

On March 23, 2021, State of New York Court of Appeals Justice Paul Feinman retired from the court, citing health concerns. 

Justice Feinman joined the State of New York Court of Appeals in 2017. He was appointed to the court by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). Feinman was the first openly gay judge confirmed to serve on the state’s highest court.

Before serving on the state supreme court, Feinman was a judge with the New York County Supreme Court, Civil Term in the 1st Judicial District from 2008 to 2017. He was also appointed to the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department in 2012. From 1996 to 1997 and again in 2001 to 2003, Feinman served as a judge with the New York City Civil Court. From 1997 to 2000, he served as a judge with the New York City Criminal Courts.

The seven justices of the New York Court of Appeals serve 14-year terms. They are appointed by the governor from a list of candidates provided by a judicial nominating commission, pending confirmation from the New York Senate.

The current chief justice of the court is Janet DiFiore, who was appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2015. 

The other five active justices of the court are:

• Jenny Rivera – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2013

• Eugene Fahey – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2015

• Michael Garcia – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2016

• Rowan Wilson – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2017

• Leslie Stein – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2015

Justice Leslie Stein is scheduled to retire from the court on June 4, 2021, and Justice Eugene Fahey has scheduled his retirement for December 31, 2021.

In 2021, there have been 11 supreme court vacancies in nine of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies have been caused by retirements. 

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Special election approaches Feb. 23 in New York City Council District 31

The special general election for New York City Council District 31 is on February 23, 2021. Nine candidates are competing in the special election. The filing deadline to run passed on December 16, 2020. 

The special election was called when Donovan Richards left office after he was elected Queens Borough President in November. Richards served on the city council from 2013 to 2020.

The February 23 election will be the second election in New York City to use a ranked-choice voting system. In 2019, New Yorkers passed a ballot measure that instituted ranked-choice voting in special elections to local offices.

In ranked-choice voting, voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. First preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated, lifting the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots. A new tally is conducted to determine whether any candidate has won a majority of the adjusted votes. The process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority. 

Ranked-choice voting in New York City is the subject of an ongoing court challenge. On December 16, 2020, a state trial court declined to block the implementation of ranked-choice voting, but the decision is being appealed.  

The New York City Council consists of 51 members. New York is the largest city by population in the U.S.

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New York voters to decide constitutional amendment about environmental rights in November

Voters in New York will decide a ballot measure to add a right to clean water, clean air, and a healthful environment to the New York Constitution’s Bill of Rights. The ballot measure would make New York the third state, after Pennsylvania and Montana, to adopt an environmental rights amendment. Pennsylvania and Montana both adopted their amendments in the 1970s.

In New York, a constitutional amendment requires approval in two successive legislation sessions to go on the ballot. Legislators approved the proposal in 2019 and 2021. On January 12, 2021, the state Senate voted 48 to 14 to approve the amendment. Senate Democrats supported the proposal, and Senate Republicans were divided 6 to 14. On February 8, the state Assembly voted 124 to 25, with support from all Democrats, 17 Republicans, and the chamber’s one Independence Party member.

The 15-word constitutional amendment reads: “Each person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.”

State Sen. Robert Jackson (D-31) sponsored the proposal in the Senate. He said, “This language will finally put in place safeguards that require the government to consider the environment and our relationship to the Earth in decision making. If the government fails in that responsibility, New Yorkers will finally have the right to take legal action for a clean environment because it will be in the State Constitution.”

State Sen. Dan Stec (R-45), who voted against the constitutional amendment, stated, “I’m all for clean air and clean water. Who isn’t? But in the face of ambiguity you will have distrust, you will have lawsuits, you will have costs, and I’m trying to avoid that.”

The election on November 2, 2021, could feature as many as six amendments to the New York Constitution. The Environmental Rights Amendment is the second approved for the ballot after legislators referred a redistricting measure on January 20, 2021. Since 1995, New Yorkers have approved 76.0% (19 of 25) of the constitutional amendments that have appeared on their ballots.

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