Challenges Senate to Release Redistricting Reform Bill from Committee for Floor Vote; Calls for Immediate Constitutional Amendment for Permanent Redistricting Reform
Monday evening, Bill Samuels, candidate for Lieutenant Governor and State Senate President and Chairman of the New Roosevelt Initiative, released his detailed proposal on Independent Redistricting. Fixing New York’s corrupt redistricting process is widely viewed as one of the most critical reforms necessary in Albany. New York’s state legislative districts are notoriously gerrymandered, drawn to protect favored incumbents while unfairly skewing representation, dividing communities and denying voters fair elections.
Independent Redistricting and different approaches to achieving this goal, were debated at the Samuels-sponsored forum on Legislative Redistricting, which attracted an overflow crowd and featured the film “Gerrymandering”, which recently debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Speaking at the forum were redistricting experts, including Richard Emery of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP, and Henry Stern, founder of NYCivic and recent cofounder with Ed Koch of the reform group New York Uprising.
“We must all focus on this issue so politicians understand that opposing fair redistricting is a greater political threat to them than trying to maintain a favorable district through unethical means,” stated Henry Stern.
As a first step, Samuels called on the State Senate to immediately pass S.1614A, sponsored by Senators Dave Valesky and Craig Johnson, as the first stage of reforming New York’s broken redistricting process. But Samuels also said it was urgent to simultaneously start the process of amending the state constitution to make the redistricting reform permanent.
S.1614A recently passed the Senate’s Investigation and Government Operations Committee, and is now in the Elections Committee. Samuels challenged State Senators to release the bill from the Elections Committee for a full floor vote.
“We Democrats can’t be afraid of fair elections,” said Samuels. “I believe that the majority of voters share our Democratic values and our ideas, but we need to be prepared to defend those values and ideas in the court of public opinion. Let’s finally give the voters the choices they deserve by creating an Independent Commission that draws district lines the right way.”
While agreeing that the current system is unacceptable, Emery argued against passing the Valesky/Johnson bill calling it, “A promise that cannot deliver,” because of the loopholes in the legislation. Emery instead advocated for a Constitutional amendment, but expressed doubt that the legislature would be able to pass anything in time for the upcoming redistricting process.
While acknowledging Emery’s concerns, Samuels felt that the Valesky/Johnson bill could be a first step in reforming the redistricting process.
“While this bill would be a major step forward, it does not achieve permanent reform,” Samuels said. “As the New York City Bar Association has correctly pointed out, we actually need to amend our State Constitution to permanently give an Independent Redistricting Commission the authority they need.” Emery was on the subcommittee that prepared the City Bar recommendations.
To amend the State Constitution, the legislature must pass an amendment this year, and pass it a second time under next year’s legislature, to give the voters a chance to ultimately vote on the amendment in 2011. A copy of the New York City Bar Association’s proposed amendment is below.
“Pass this bill NOW. Pass the amendment this year,” Samuels continued. “There is simply no more room for excuses and there is no more time for delay.”
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