Making Democracy Work

Steering Committee

September Message from the Steering Committee

Sadly, summer is ending and September is upon us. But, happily, a new year of League activities is beginning. Our annual Kickoff Luncheon is Wednesday, September 16th, again at the Stockade Inn. We are delighted that Judge Jill Polk has agreed to be our speaker (even though she has to be in court at 2:00). She will speak about "Juvenile Justice Reform: Issues and Concerns". The topic is timely. In late October we will be having a concurrence meeting on "Raise the Age", the issue of raising the age at which offenders are considered adults from 16 to 18.

New York State is one of only two states in the nation which still treats 16 and 17 year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system regardless of the offence. (The other is North Carolina). In his 2014 State of the State address Governor Cuomo listed raising the age of adult criminality to 18 as a top priority for the 2015 legislative session and budget negotiations. The budget in March included $135 million to implement the change the age policies. But, by the end of the legislative session in June, no implementation policy had been developed due to opposition in the Senate. On June 24th, Governor Cuomo took executive action to take 16 and 17 year-olds out of state prisons and house them in separate facilities. Questions about how this will be executed remain. Facilities and programming need to be developed before implementation is possible. Already overburdened Family Courts would be expected to handle youth cases. It is expected that this issue will again be a priority of Governor Cuomo in his 2015 State of the State address.

The State League convention delegates approved using the LWV Ohio's study and positions on Juvenile Justice as a basis for a concurrence on the "Raise the Age" issue. LWVNYS will be distributing information and study materials to local Leagues soon. Concurrence meetings will be held this Fall in order to position the League for lobbying for comprehensive "Raise the Age" legislation when the issue is again before the Legislature.

Arguments for raising the age are several. Youths of 16 and 17 who become enmeshed in the criminal justice system are mostly non-violent, mostly Latino or African-American and mostly lower income. The cost of incarceration and high rates of recidivism are issues. The cost to house one inmate for one year in New York ranges from $50,000 to $60,000 per year. Studies comparing outcomes for young offenders in New Jersey and New York show that teens prosecuted in adult courts in New York are 85% more likely to be arrested for violent crimes than those prosecuted in New Jersey juvenile courts and 44% more likely to be rearrested for felony property crimes. One mistake as a teen may ruin lives. The human brain is not fully developed until the early 20's according to neuroscience. Children under the age of 18 are still immature and should be treated accordingly and provided opportunity for rehabilitation.

In October we will also be hosting candidate forums for local elections. Forums will be held in Glenville, Niskayuna, Rotterdam and the City of Schenectady. The AAUW will be co-hosting. Volunteers will be needed to help at all sites. Please help if you can and encourage people you know to attend. For VOTE411.org, another voter service of the League, we will be collecting information from local candidates and publishing it online. This year, Stewart's Shops will publicize this service for voters on their milk cartons! National Voter Registration Day is September 22nd. We will be registering voters at a number of sites and help will be needed and most welcome! When someone registers to vote that person may now also sign up to be an organ donor on the same form. This option will be explained to prospective registrants.

This is for starters. There's more to come .....Stay tuned! Hope to see you at an event soon!

Ruth Bonn, Lead

July/August Message from the Steering Committee

Former New York State Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk told the LWV that its efforts to inform citizens about both sides of issues are needed and the League is one of the few organizations that has credibility to provide this kind of information. In her speech to the League at its recent annual dinner, she exhorted the League to continue in these efforts and also to be forceful in making its positions on issues known since they are well researched and thought out.

Ms. Tkaczyk expressed dismay with the role of money in politics and the distortion that money brings to campaigns that are targeted with PAC and other big money. The majority of the money was targeted to just three districts in the last State Senatorial race , according to Ms.Tkaczyk, and one of the districts was the one in which she ran for office. The League of Women Voters of the United States (LWVUS) is asking local Leagues to study money in politics to update the policy position on campaign finance. The LWVUS believes that there is a lack of understanding and agreement by League members about financing of political campaigns and whether that is protected free speech under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

After the end of the New York State Legislative session, the League of Women Voters of New York State (LWVNYS) used a press release to express "disappointment" with the State Legislature's failure to act to reform the State's "extraordinarily lax campaign finance laws" including closing the Limited Liability Corporation loophole that allows a corporation with many incorporated entities to donate money in each of those names, although it represents the parent corporate interests. Barbara Bartoletti, Legislative Director for the LWVNYS, declared until big money is taken out of politics at the state level, New Yorkers will be apathetic about voting and disdainful of State government.

The League, at its old/new Board meeting, brainstormed ideas for programs for the 2015-16 year. Programming ideas that we discussed included:

  • Juvenile justice including raising the age in which juveniles are considered adults when committing crimes and reform efforts related to youth and criminal justice issues
  • Mergers and shared services in the County
  • Livable communities and cooperative "aging in place" efforts
  • Casino development and implications for the community
  • State Minimum Wage
  • Gun control and the dichotomy between gun rights advocates' positions and the general public's positions
  • Income inequities and redistribution
  • Underperforming schools
  • Perceptions of urban safety and fears
  • Schenectady Police Review Board update
  • County Legislative updates related to committee assignments
  • Flood control and environmental/economic concerns
  • Economic implications of Fire/EMT responses to emergencies

If you have program ideas, please share them with the Steering Committee or League Board. Those ideas can come now or during the year.

Planning is beginning for the four town and city political candidates' forums to be held in October. We will be looking for volunteers who can help with the forums that Kay Ackerman is coordinating for the League and Maxine Borom is coordinating for the AAUW Schenectady County chapter. We hope to strengthen our two organizations' collaborative effort.

I want to thank my Steering Committee colleagues, Ruth Bonn, Carol Furman, and Cheryl Nechamen, as I "depart" from the Steering Committee as my term concludes. They have been an extraordinary team that has been supportive, knowledgeable, and dedicated to making our League work. I also want to thank all the League members who help in so many ways to make leadership a positive experience.

Joan Elliott, Lead

STEERING COMMITTEE

Ruth Bonn

Lead for August - November 2015

Carol Furman

Lead for December 2015 - January, February, June 2016

Cheryl Nechamen

Lead for March - May 2016

June Message from the Steering Committee

Our annual meeting always gives us a chance to see League members we have not seen in awhile and to catch up on their lives. So, the annual meeting is fun and social. It conducts business and importantly, it also gives the Steering Committee and the League Board a chance to hear about your ideas for programs and issues that interest you and inform others in the community. We look to you to give us your feedback on new committees you would like to see or tell us if our current committees need to be rethought.

The Board held a special meeting in May to talk about the local League and changes we might consider to make ourselves a more effective organization. (We came up with no magic, no panaceas, and no big solutions.) We did talk of ways that we could collaborate with other organizations in programming, how we could delegate more effectively and how to have more members involved in time-limited activities which fit our membership's often busy, "retired" lives. We also noted that we have a lot of "doers" but need to cultivate more "organizers." We also have a number of "behind the scene" workers whom we want to recognize.

In assessing the past, we agreed some of the most successful programs have been on agriculture (a series), consolidation, common core, educational financing inequities, and the grand jury system.

The Board acknowledged the need for use of more technology but how that would be implemented was uncertain. The key question is how do we begin to use social media to build our community but one that is more than an on-line community.

These kinds of discussions will continue at our July old/new Board orientation and planning session so any of you who have ideas, please let us know.

The League is fortunate to have as its keynote speaker at its June 10th annual meeting, former New York State Senator CeCe Tkaczyk. Considered a "non-traditional" political office seeker when she ran for a seat in the New York State Senate, she can provide insights into the difficulties of running for office and the pluses and minuses of gender in politics.

Former Schenectady County Judge Karen Drago will be honored with the League's Susan B. Anthony award for extraordinary service to the community. Judge Drago was known for her commitment to alternative treatment courts that dealt with defendants who had alcohol and other substance abuse problems and mental health issues in addition to their legal offenses.

Without competition for the two seats for the Schenectady City School District Board of Education, the League cancelled its candidates forum. The League commends the citizens who run for School Board seats in school districts throughout Schenectady County for their contributions to their communities.

Unfortunate Action: The Schenectady County Legislature, with the exception of Legislator Karen Johnson, voted to ask the New York State Legislature to rescind the SAFE Act which requires strict gun controls. The gun lobby has been persistent in lobbying the County to support repeal of the gun measure passed in the wake of the Connecticut elementary school shootings. The League of Women Voters supports gun control legislation.

Joan Elliott, Lead