Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Amending the Constitution for the Umpteenth Time

This is the second in a series...

Second on the ballot November 4 is a proposal that would again amend the NYS Constitution. Essentially, the purpose is to allow electronic distribution of state legislative bills to satisfy the constitutional requirement that a bill be printed and on legislators' desks at least three days before a vote. Current provisions are only satisfied by the distribution of a hard copy of the bill.

This one is a "yes" as far as I am concerned, but it also serves to point out a big flaw in our constitution in general and NYS law in particular. The U.S. Constitution has been amended 27 times. NYS, meanwhile, has had five constitutions. We're currently using the 1938 one. We can amend it by holding a convention every 20 years or by passing an amendment twice in the legislature and then presenting it to the general population on the ballot. Usually, the general population ignores this entirely; "Politics on the Hudson" found that 54 percent of ballots don't log a vote for these amendments at all. But despite this oversight, the NYS Constitution has been amended many, many times.

So what? That makes it a living document. Well, yes, but it is also way too specific, as many NYS laws seem to be. Paul likes to complain about the law that forces every person working in a NYS Department of Social Services to have two separate computers, one for State business, and one for County business. This dates back to a time when you couldn't easily partition a hard drive to keep one set of files separate from another. Now the law just sits quietly on the books, racking up dollars for the counties as they continue to purchase and support twice the number of computers they need. That's a bad law.

A clever writer of laws tries to anticipate the future and to be as general as possible without being vague. Goodness knows some of us would like a little tweaking on "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed," but for the most part, the U.S. Constitution walks the line of generalities without veering over into specifics that would need to be amended or vagueness that would need to be explained. It says, for example, "...the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." It doesn't say "petition the Senate" or "the right of male landowners." Perhaps the founders had good imaginations, or perhaps they were just smart. Whichever it was, the First Amendment still holds up pretty well after 227 years.

So vote yes on Proposal 2. For the 54 percent who don't usually vote on these, you will find it on the BACK OF YOUR BALLOT.

Coming soon: Proposal 3.

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