Editorial Roundup: New York

Auburn Citizen. July 3, 2022.

Editorial: NY Democrats’ special session shut out public

The Democratically controlled state Legislature and Gov. Kathy Hochul came together last week for a special session that resulted in approving significant legislation related to handgun possession rules and abortion.

Given the nature of these two issue, it wasn’t surprising that the bills were approved in heavily partisan votes, with Republican lawmakers voting against them while Democrats used their majority status to get the measures passed.

But the loudest protests from many Republicans had little to do with the specifics of the legislation. Instead, they were appalled by the process used to get the bills to the Assembly and Senate floors.

And they were justified in their disgust.

Despite Hochul publicly announcing Thursday’s special session the week before, no bills were ready for the session by the required three days ahead of expected voting. In fact, no bills were available when the session itself started on Thursday afternoon. And that lack of public information continued into the early morning hours of Friday.

In the end, lawmakers voted Friday afternoon, before a holiday weekend, on bills that no one except for a handful of legislative leaders and their top aides could have possibly read, let alone researched and sought constituent feedback for.

Albany has long been known for its legislative dysfunction, but this was among the worst examples we recall seeing. How can a special session, which brings lawmakers back to the Capitol from around the state for the sole purpose of considering specific bills, be so secretive and disorganized?

New Yorkers deserve better than what they received from their state government last week.

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Albany Times Union. July 6, 2022.

Editorial: Church-state wall erodes

Glenburn and Palermo, a pair of small towns in Maine, would normally be of little concern to New Yorkers. But a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June may turn out to be very much worth this state’s attention.extra_lead3

The court’s conservative majority further chipped away at the wall of separation between church and state that the framers of the U.S. Constitution erected in the First Amendment. And some fear it could lead to more decisions requiring taxpayers to fund parochial schools.

Fewer than half of Maine’s districts have a high school, and the state has long opted to provide tuition assistance to students in those areas to attend state-approved private schools. The state, however, excludes religious schools, prompting a lawsuit on behalf of two families who wanted reimbursement to send their children to parochial schools.

The court majority ruled that if the state provides a benefit to private schools, it can’t withhold that benefit from some institutions just because they’re parochial. The decision cited an earlier case in which the court said Missouri could not exclude a church from a program to provide funds for playgrounds.

The ruling strikes a serious blow to the separation of church and state, and it may set the stage for more by this activist, reactionary court majority. New York doesn’t have a program like Maine’s — it wisely avoided even establishing tax credits for people to donate to private-school foundations, as former Gov. Andrew Cuomo once proposed. But it does fund charter schools, which are considered public schools but are privately operated, and some, including now-retired Justice Stephen Breyer, warn that the ruling could extend to religious charters. Unless New York wants to be forced down the road of having taxpayers fund parochial schools, it should study this decision thoroughly and ensure that its charter school program is immune to the court’s religious inclinations — or be prepared to end it. Public funds should not be going to religious education and indoctrination.

The court’s willingness to blur the line between church and state showed up in another ruling last month concerning school prayer. The court found that a football coach in Bremerton, Wash., was within his rights to pray on the 50-yard line after games, another decision that cast aside decades of precedent when it came to prohibiting religious activities at public school events. The court majority argued that because the game was over, the coach was on his own time, so his actions were unofficial.

That tortured ruling ignores the fact that these prayer sessions turned into group events, and overlooked the enormous pressure members of a school team have to both express solidarity with their teammates and please the adult who decides how much time they get on the field, if any. It’s a decision that hews closely to the view among some conservatives that the church-state wall is a false construct in what they maintain is a fundamentally Christian nation.

The nation’s founders keenly understood history’s lessons about the perils of state endorsement of religion, and crafted the First Amendment’s religious protection broadly in order to stand the test of time. These two decisions, alarmingly, demonstrate the determination of a court majority that seems intent on eroding, if not dismantling, that wall, and how quickly the edifice could fall.

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Dunkirk Evening Observer. July 5, 2022.

Editorial: NEW YORK STATE: Secrecy spoils special session

Pardon the pun, but what exactly was the state secret Gov. Kathy Hochul and legislative leadership were trying to keep from state residents in the run-up to last week’s extraordinary legislative session?

Hochul is a real professional when it comes to talking about transparency. When it comes to actually being transparent, well, she’s much less polished.

Bills usually have to be introduced three days before they can be voted on, with exceptions requiring a message of necessity from the governor to permit a vote. The day before last week’s extraordinary session, not one single piece of legislation had been filed for review by the public or legislators. Even Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown and minority whip, hadn’t seen the bill before he left for Albany to debate the bills. Concerned members of the public both in favor of and against the legislation had no opportunity to read the bills and reach out to their legislator with concerns or to express support. And what was the necessity that prompted Hochul and the Democrats to once again abandon typical legislative procedure?

No matter what Hochul or legislative leadership says, time was not of the essence here. Hochul and Democrats in the legislature read the political tea leaves regarding Roe v. Wade and introduced dozens of abortion-related bills with plenty of tie to be approved before the end of the legislative session on June 3. Yet we’re expected to believe they were caught sleeping regarding the Supreme Court’s decision in NYSPRA v. Bruen when even the New York Times noticed Justice Clarence Thomas’ questions during oral arguments of the Bruen case hinted that the state’s concealed carry law may be ruled unconstitutional. The Times wrote about the issue twice in a five-day span in November, yet Hochul and company didn’t have this tide-turning package of legislation ready until after the decision was announced?

That’s hardly believable. At the very least, the session could have been scheduled once the legislation had been finished and filed so that the public and their elected representatives on both sides of the aisle had a chance to review it.

Regardless of one’s stance on the Second Amendment or the state’s conceal carry laws, we should all be able to agree that this process stunk. This level of secrecy should be reserved for nuclear launch codes and, maybe, plot twists for Hollywood productions. But when it comes to legislation that affects people’s constitutional rights, the state owes it to its residents to involve the people’s elected representatives in the process before the day a vote is scheduled. And, when you think about it, Democrats didn’t just shut out Republican legislators from these discussions, they shut out the hundreds of millions of state residents who elected those Republican legislators.

In other words, they aren’t just shutting Goodell, Assemblyman Joe Giglio, Sen. George Borrello and the rest of the legislative minority out of these talks. They’re shutting many county residents out of these talks.

In that respect, last week’s extraordinary legislative session was anything but. It was just plain, old, run-of-the-mill New York politics. And it stunk.

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Jamestown Post-Journal. July 5, 2022.

Editorial: Why Was The State So Secretive Over Its Slate Of Gun Bills Passed Last Week?

Pardon the pun, but what exactly was the state secret Gov. Kathy Hochul and legislative leadership were trying to keep from state residents in the run-up to last week’s extraordinary legislative session?

Hochul is a real professional when it comes to talking about transparency. When it comes to actually being transparent, well, she’s much less polished.

Bills usually have to be introduced three days before they can be voted on, with exceptions requiring a message of necessity from the governor to permit a vote. The day before last week’s extraordinary session, not one single piece of legislation had been filed for review by the public or legislators. Even Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown and minority whip, hadn’t seen the bill before he left for Albany to debate the bills. Concerned members of the public both in favor of and against the legislation had no opportunity to read the bills and reach out to their legislator with concerns or to express support. And what was the necessity that prompted Hochul and the Democrats to once again abandon typical legislative procedure?

No matter what Hochul or legislative leadership says, time was not of the essence here. Hochul and Democrats in the legislature read the political tea leaves regarding Roe v. Wade and introduced dozens of abortion-related bills with plenty of tie to be approved before the end of the legislative session on June 3. Yet we’re expected to believe they were caught sleeping regarding the Supreme Court’s decision in NYSPRA v. Bruen when even the New York Times noticed Justice Clarence Thomas’ questions during oral arguments of the Bruen case hinted that the state’s concealed carry law may be ruled unconstitutional. The Times wrote about the issue twice in a five-day span in November, yet Hochul and company didn’t have this tide-turning package of legislation ready until after the decision was announced?

That’s hardly believable. At the very least, the session could have been scheduled once the legislation had been finished and filed so that the public and their elected representatives on both sides of the aisle had a chance to review it.

Regardless of one’s stance on the Second Amendment or the state’s conceal carry laws, we should all be able to agree that this process stunk. This level of secrecy should be reserved for nuclear launch codes and, maybe, plot twists for Hollywood productions. But when it comes to legislation that affects people’s constitutional rights, the state owes it to its residents to involve the people’s elected representatives in the process before the day a vote is scheduled. And, when you think about it, Democrats didn’t just shut out Republican legislators from these discussions, they shut out the hundreds of millions of state residents who elected those Republican legislators.

In other words, they aren’t just shutting Goodell, Assemblyman Joe Giglio, Sen. George Borrello and the rest of the legislative minority out of these talks. They’re shutting many county residents out of these talks.

In that respect, last week’s extraordinary legislative session was anything but. It was just plain, old, run-of-the-mill New York politics. And it stunk.

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New York Post. July 2, 2022.

Editorial: Albany’s getting a new ethics watchdog to replace JCOPE — but the JJOKE’s on us!

New Yorkers can bid a not-so-fond farewell to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics. The state ethics watchdog, which was deeply hobbled by its members’ ties to the lawmakers who appointed them, held its last meeting Tuesday. Good riddance.

JCOPE’s 11-year tenure was marked by in-fighting and could never be taken seriously (it was derisively called JJOKE) as a check on government’s ethical lapses. Ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders made sure of that by putting hacks in charge.

And sure enough, Cuomo was able to breeze through an ethically tarred tenure until he was forced out not by JCOPE but by Attorney General Tish James, furious lawmakers and outrage from the public (including us).

This year, Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Legislature created a new 11-member Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government, which will replace JCOPE beginning this month. Yet the new group suffers from the same basic flaw as its predecessor: the people its members are supposed to police — i.e., Hochul, lawmakers and their staffs — are the very ones who’ll appoint them.

Yes, the deans of 15 law schools will now be charged with vetting nominees to assure their “undisputed honesty, integrity and character.” And the nominating committee can reject candidates it finds lacking.

That’s an improvement, but the governor and legislative leaders will still get to choose the “cops” who’ll police them. Commissioners selected that way will always be tainted by the appearance of a lack of independence.

New York deserves better than to be the national laughingstock it’s long been when it comes to its political leaders and their ethics. Alas, if the new watchdog suffers from the same built-in problem as the old one, how can anyone expect ethical standards to be any better?

END