The New York State Constitutional Convention, while appealing to some, is too big of a risk.
For those of you who may not know, New York gives voters an opportunity to overhaul the state constitution every 20 years, with a vote on convening a constitutional convention. While the convention would bypass the typical NYS legislature procedures that cause so many proposed bills to disintegrate into nothing every session, it would also mean a radical change to our state’s constitution. This change could either protect progressive legislation, such as abortion rights and labor laws, or impose new laws that could take current protections away.
This all depends on who the delegates are and what special interests are represented at the convention. The delegates are three representatives elected by constituents in every NYS Senate district after the initial “yes or no” convention vote and tend to be elected officials, judges and holders of other governmental offices.
Some supporters of the convention, including progressives, believe it is a chance to rid Albany of corrupt politicians and end political gerrymandering. Although being marketed as a “people’s convention” by those in favor of the convention, the last convention in 1967 featured elected officials as delegates — the same people often preventing legislation from passing because of partisan gridlock. This essentially means the meeting may very well be run by the same politicians worried about their next election or their campaign donors. The only difference is that there would be no traditional legislative process — a scary thought. This is a gamble too big to take.
In the era of Trump, nothing is more sacred than progressive laws at the state level. Ironically, liberals across the country are increasingly advocating for states’ rights in the wake of the last election — a principle conservatives have owned. However, New York is one of the most progressive states in the country and should remain that way. We must be a sanctuary for the poor, the displaced and the families hoping for a better future. New York’s progressive laws did not come easily. They are the result of years of advocacy at the state and local level.
It goes without saying that our state legislature is not broken, although it may appear that way to some. In the past decade, New York has seen the passing of some of the most progressive laws in the country. In 2011, the Marriage Equality Act was signed into law after it passed in the Assembly and Senate, making same-sex marriage legal. More recently, the minimum wage was raised, a comprehensive paid family leave plan was adopted and state universities were made more affordable to some with the Excelsior Scholarship. These are examples of laws that cannot be traded for special interests.
Of course, some of us would like to see more legislation passed. The Reproductive Health Act, for example, would codify Roe v. Wade to ensure abortions remain legal if the Supreme Court were to overturn the landmark decision. Again, there is a possibility that a state convention could make this proposed bill a reality without the extraneous law process and political gridlock. However, the convention also has the potential of the opposite: repealing current state abortion protections.
Education, reproductive rights and criminal justice reform are three topics I care about deeply. I want to see action and change within the law advancing these issues. But, because I care so much about these issues, I cannot support a constitutional convention. The current protections that are in place could be destroyed. I want to see a more active legislature, not one in constant gridlock — but I do not think this convention is the solution.
Whether you want to protect progressive or conservative values in the law, most advocacy groups, labor unions and organizations (i.e., Planned Parenthood and Right to Life) agree: The risk is too significant to take. A constitutional convention in New York could mean anything for the state. Do not let progress go to waste because there is a possibility that a policy you support may be finally incorporated into NYS law — because it also means laws you support may be taken away. We could (and will!) get laws we support passed in the same way New Yorkers always have: by voting in any and all elections and pushing elected officials to defend our values.
It won’t be easy, but we will change the state and get progressive policies passed — on our terms — without bypassing the process and risking regression.
Vote “NO” on Nov. 7, on the back of your ballot, to ensure we keep the legislative progress of our state intact.
Tyler Muzio is a senior political science and history double major and the president of the Stony Brook College Democrats.