2019 Columns

2019 Columns

TIMES BEACON RECORD NEWSPAPERS

TimesBeaconRecord newspapers: The Village Times Herald, The Port Times Record, The Village Beacon Record, The Times of Middle County, The Times of Smithtown and The Times of Huntington-Northport now publish a monthly League of Women Voters of Suffolk County column in their Arts & Lifestyles section.
 

Making Democracy Work: Let's work together to implement NYS Environmental Legislation

The December 19 TBR Media column appears below:
by Stephanie Quarles December 19, 2019
 

New York State took an important step in July toward reducing our state’s “contribution” to global warming when Governor Cuomo signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. This comprehensive bill is the result of many years of planning by grassroots organizations with the support of Todd Kaminsky, Chair, NY Senate Committee on Environmental Conservation, Steve Englebright, Chair, NY Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation and Carl Heastie, Speaker of the Assembly. It sets critical environmental standards for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and for increasing the use of renewables, setting the goal of reducing emissions at 85 percent by 2050 and mandating an interim target of a 40-percent reduction from 1990 emissions by 2030. 

New York State’s commitment to climate protection has thus been established... but we need more, and soon. If not, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act will be no more than a gesture of intent. When the legislators return in January 2020, they will turn to the task of actually implementing the Act, which will be led by a 22-member Climate Action Council composed of theheads of various New York State agencies along with members appointed by the Governor, the Senate, and the Assembly. The council will focus on ‘Sectors,’ such as Energy, Transportation, and Housing. For example, in the Energy Sector, the members will look at renewable energy such as offshore wind and solar. One of the things being considered in the Transportation Sector is encouraging electric cars.  In the Housing sector they will look for substitutes for cement, heating with electricity and better insulation. The Climate Action Council MUST be appointed early in 2020!

Climate change especially heightens the vulnerability of disadvantaged communities, which bear environmental and socioeconomic burdens. A bill (A01564, PeoplesStokes, S02385, Parker) to establish a permanent Environmental Justice Advisory Group within the D.E.C is not yet law. The 17-member Environmental Justice Advisory Group would require state agencies to adopt and abide by effective environmental justice policies.  Its members would represent environmental organizations from community based organizations that advise minority low-income communities; business representatives, local government representatives and  members taken from state and national organizations, educators, researchers and the general public. It prioritizes the allocation of public investments in areas with minority and low-income residents, looking toward ‘fair treatment’ such that ‘no ethnic or socioeconomic group, be disproportionately exposed to pollution or bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental impact’.  A Coordinating Council would be comprised of the heads of D.E.C., the Department of Transportation, the Power Authority and other agencies that engage in activities that impact the environment, or their designees.

Progress has been made:  The 1, 4-Dioxane Ban and the r Polluter Pays Law are now law. But we are still waiting for the PFAS-Free Firefighting Foam bill (A00445A, Steck, S00439A, Hoylman) to become law and for the Assembly and Senate to pass the Nitrogen Fertilizer bill (A04568, Englebright, S02130, Kaminsky). Keep up the pressure on your elected NYS representatives throughout their session (Jan-June, 2020). 

None of the above laws and efforts can improve our environment and safety unless funding is established and approved. There will be the usual “horse-trading” as the budget is negotiated in early 2020 but environmental funding is not a negotiable item. Educate yourself on the issues. Reach out to your NYS legislators and their staffs on a regular basis especially in January and February. They need to hear that their constituents are knowledgeable and persistent on climate justice issues. 

Make your voice heard on climate change legislation and action.  Ask to prioritize the appointment to the Climate Action Council as well as the bill establishing the Justice Advisory Group by contacting your NYS Assembly member and Senator, the Majority Leader of the Senate, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Speaker of the Assembly Carl Heastie, and the Governor. 

Visit the LWVNY webpage at https://bit.ly/36kKGEM to find your elected officials, and  get contact information at https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county/2019-directory-public-officials.  

For more information about other NYS environmental legislation visit https://eany.org/our-work/bill-ratings

Stephanie Quarlesis a director of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit http://lwv-suffolkcounty.org, or call 631-862-6860.

View the above article on the TimesBeaconRecord Media website here.

 

Making Democracy Work: High School Students Get Hands-on Debate Training

The November 22 TBR Media column appears below:
by Lisa Scott November 22, 2019
 

The League of Women Voters (LWV) has a longstanding non-partisan role in organizing, managing and moderating candidate debates in Suffolk County. In the fall of 2019, we expanded that role by creating an alliance with the Kings Park Central School District (KPCSD) for a Suffolk County Executive debate on October 21.

In the summer we were given permission to use Kings Park High School (KPHS) auditorium, chosen for its convenient location near the Sunken Meadow Parkway, thus appealing to both Smithtown and Huntington township voters. As the campaigns heated up in late September, LWV engaged with KPCSD Superintendent of Schools Dr. Timothy Eagen, who was most enthusiastic about establishing a true partnership between LWV and KPHS. Dr. Karen Lessler, KPHS Assistant Principal and Jack Bishop, KPHS Student Council Advisor, immediately followed up with LWV and a plan was developed that was innovative and educational for the school and the community.

With LWV guidance on debate structure and rules, KPHS students in the National Honor Society and the Student Council worked diligently to organize the program and materials for the night of the debate. They spread word about the debate to the greater Kings Park community (including parents) and organizations, and letters were sent to local elected officials inviting them to be honored guests at the debate. They collaborated on banners both for the candidate dais as well as a welcome banner in the KPHS lobby. They created informative name cards for each of the candidates, as well as a program for all attendees with debate rules, candidate names, and details of all students speakers/topics. They also developed questions for the candidates (on index cards) which dealt with issues of importance to students.

On the night of the debate, the students welcomed over 300 attendees. They introduced administrators, spoke about the importance of voting and read each candidate’s biography. Other students mixed with the attendees prior to the debate in the lobby, giving out programs and question cards, which were also distributed and collected in the auditorium. 

The debate itself was videotaped by Kings Park Productions, and is on the LWV website lwv-suffolkcounty.org on the events page. Local media were present and did extensive reporting the following day. Newsday’s Rachelle Blidner’s headline says it all: Focus on Young People on LI. Questions asked of candidates Bellone, Fischer and Kennedy during the 2 hour debate covered many issues including young peoples’ challenges in finding jobs and affordable housing, vaping and the opioid crisis, school safety, the environment, especially water issues and creating more vibrant sustainable downtowns.

A week after the debate, LWV members met with about 15 students who were involved in the debate to “de-brief.” Most students admitted that they didn’t really know much about the office, the candidates, or debates in general. Only a few considered themselves up to date on current issues or “political.” A few spoke about the importance of getting news from legitimate sources.

Interestingly, the students were surprised that so few people showed up in a county with 1.5 million people. They also commented on how the candidates “interacted with each other” and that the “candidates didn’t directly answer the questions.” When asked whether they were surprised by the results of the election, they said no.

The KPHS students were committed to involving students from all grades so that there would be continuity. They looked forward to future debates, and thanked KPHS for their “excellent support.” It takes a village- actually a school district- to set an example of youth empowerment and engagement.

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit http://lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

View the above article on the TimesBeaconRecord Media website here.

 

Making Democracy Work: Why voting matters on Nov. 5

The October 24 TBR Media column appears below:
by Lisa Scott October 24, 2019
 

Off-year elections (not congressional or presidential) tend to draw much smaller numbers of voters to the polls. In the final four weeks before Election Day 2019, it’s the 2020 presidential race that dominates the media. More people can name the prospective Democratic presidential candidates than know the races on their ballot on Tuesday, Nov. 5. 

Registered?

By the time you read this column, if you haven’t yet registered you will not be able to vote on Nov. 5 this year — but register soon if you want to vote in the 2020 primaries and general election. Use the NYS Board of Elections website: https://voterlookup.elections.ny.gov/ to see if you are registered and to see your assigned Election Day poll site.

Assuming you are registered to vote — you should be making your plan now — a plan involves deciding what day, when and where you’ll vote if you take advantage of the nine days of early voting in New York State this year. Make voting a social occasion — go with a friend and then stop for coffee, or perhaps take a child with you to the polling place and introduce her to voting.

If you choose early voting, there are 10 polling sites (one in each town in Suffolk) that you may choose from, with a variety of times to suit nearly everyone’s convenience. Details are at https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county.

Use the new voting process

The voting process will be different this year — the old poll books are being replaced by electronic tablets (similar to iPads) and electronic signature devices. Your personalized ballot will be printed immediately. You’ll go to a voting station to make your choices on the paper ballot (same as the past few years) and then insert your completed ballot into the optical scanner to cast your vote. 

It’s different and that’s one reason you should vote this year. Understand the process now and get comfortable with the new system before 2020’s federal election.

Do your homework before you go

Local media are interviewing candidates, making endorsements and planning voter guides, earlier than usual because early voting starts on Oct. 26. The League of Women Voters Education Fund developed VOTE411.org, which provides election information for each state. By entering your address (no names needed), you will find a guide to all races and candidates on your ballot. Candidates are provided tools to upload their photo, bio, experience and answer several questions on the issues. If candidates do not respond, you’ll still see their name and prospective office. 

The league (and other civic groups) will organize candidate debates prior to the election. Some groups sponsor meet and greets, others will spotlight individual candidates. The league’s best practices reflect our nonpartisan, citizen-education mission. Debates must include two candidates — we have a strict No Empty Chair policy. 

For example, in 2019 the league co-sponsored two county executive debates (Sept. 21 with NAACP and Oct. 21 with Kings Park School District) as well as many town-level debates. Candidates agree to guidelines in advance, and questions on a wide range of topics are solicited, submitted, vetted and asked by the moderators. All debates involving the league are listed at https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county/upcoming-events#debates.

You might learn something

This November, you’ll have the opportunity to vote for Suffolk County executive (four-year term) and all 18 members of the Suffolk County Legislature (two-year terms). Some town supervisors are on the ballot, as well as many town council members and other town officials such as clerk and receiver of taxes. Towns have their own laws regarding terms of office and which officials are elected vs. appointed. Judges are also on the ballot. 

By studying your ballot in advance, and following the campaigns and media reporting, you’ll know more about candidate positions on issues of importance to you and your community. Suffolk County and our 10 towns face many serious challenges: fiscal, environmental, public health, economic development and more. 

Yes, you can complain to your elected officials and advocate in the coming years, but wouldn’t it be better if you started with an informed choice and voted on Nov. 5?

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit http://lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

View the above article on the TimesBeaconRecord Media website here.

 

Early voting in 2019 starts Oct. 26

The September 27 TBR Media column appears below:
Early voting in 2019 starts Oct. 26 by Lisa Scott
 

Starting this fall, registered voters may vote early in the general election. New York has long lagged behind most of the country when it comes to voting. During this past legislative session however, many election reform bills were passed and signed into law. These new laws significantly change the way you can register and vote in New York State. Some reforms have taken effect already, some will take effect in the next year, and two are constitutional amendments that need to be passed by both houses of the Legislature after the next statewide election (2020) and then be approved by the voters.

One of the key reforms adopted this year is the provision for early voting across the state. Because off-year elections (local races, not congressional or presidential) have significantly lower turnout than for federal/state election years, early voting in 2019 will serve as a proving ground for 2020’s expected high voter turnout for president.

The Suffolk County Board of Elections (SC BOE) has chosen 10 early voting sites in the county, one site in each township. The requirement that residents of each town vote only at the site in their town, rather than give them the flexibility to vote at any of the 10 sites, has been a strong concern. However in meetings with the SC BOE, they’ve said that short lead time (due to lack of NYS regulations), required new equipment, network security and avoiding anyone casting ballots in more than one poll site were factors.

AS OF SEPTEMBER 25, 2019, THIS HAS CHANGED. According to a Suffolk County Board of Elections statement: “Early voters will be able to cast a ballot at any of Suffolk’s 10 Early Voting locations. This expansion follows the Suffolk Board of Elections’ successfully completing vast interoperability, communications and security testing of the Board’s specialized iPads at each the County’s ten polling locations. This operational testing was necessary to ensure that a voter who voted in one early polling place wasn’t able to subsequently cast a second ballot at another polling place.”

You still must be registered to vote in advance of voting early in NYS. October 11, 2019, is the last day to register to vote in person at your county Board of Elections office or to postmark your voter registration form (which should be mailed to your county BOE office). In NYS, you cannot register to vote during early voting or at the polls on Election Day.

Voting at an early voting poll site will be different from the way you have voted on Election Day. There will be electronic poll books instead of the familiar paper registration books. However, you will still be expected to sign in, receive a ballot, complete the ballot and feed the ballot into a scanner for counting. The ballot at an early voting poll site will be identical to the ballot provided on Nov. 5, Election Day.

Once you submit your ballot in person, at an early voting poll site, you cannot vote again at an early voting poll site, at your usual poll site on Election Day or by absentee ballot. Once you submit your ballot, you have completed voting and cannot change your vote.

If you are at an early voting poll site or at your usual poll site on Election Day, and your name is not in the electronic poll book, ask to complete an affidavit ballot. Make sure you are at the correct poll site for your address (either in early voting or on Election Day), and if so, do not leave without completing an affidavit ballot.

Remember that if you prefer to vote on Election Day, Nov. 5, you still must go to your usual assigned poll site to vote (not the one early voting site in your town).

Suffolk’s 10 early voting sites will be open daily, including weekends, between Oct. 26 and Nov. 3, 2019. All sites will have the same hours, but those hours will be different each day to accommodate voters’ schedules. All 10 early voting sites are handicap-accessible. There is no early voting on Monday, Nov. 4.

For a list of the 10 early voting sites in Suffolk (which are subject to change) and their hours, call the SC BOE at 631-852-4500 or check its website https://www.suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/BOE/Early-Voting-Information.

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit http://lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

View the above article on the TimesBeaconRecord Media website here.

 
 

BEFORE YOU CAST YOUR BALLOT IN NOVEMBER

The August 30 TBR Media column appears below:

Before You Cast Your Ballot in November by Nancy Marr

Each election day