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LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS

of THE RIVERTOWNS
P.O. Box 142, Hastings on Hudson, NY 10706
www.lwv-rivertowns.org
BULLETIN JANUARY 2016

President's Message
A New Year's Resolution?
Dear Rivertowns Members and Friends,
We are well aware of increasing efforts in many states to restrict voting, triggered by Shelby
County v. Holder, the 2013 Supreme Court case which in effect gutted the 1965 Voting Rights
Act by eliminating federal pre-clearance for changes in voting laws in certain states. This
trend is especially troubling as voter turnout in presidential elections has been trending
down in the past five decades. In 1964 turnout was 69% but dropped steadily to 57% in 2012.
According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, 93 million eligible voters sat out the 2012 elections.
In fact, the U.S. ranks 31 out of 34 OECD nations in voter turnout, ahead of only Japan, Chile,
and Switzerland!
Closer to home, the picture is bleak. In the 2014 mid-term elections, New York turnout was
just 29% of eligible voters (49th out of 50 states) and New Jersey was not that much better,
with a 30.4% turnout. In New Jersey, Governor Christie recently vetoed a bill that would
have provided two weeks of early voting, on-line voter registration, and automatic
registration when obtaining a driver's license at the DMV. New Yorkers have yet to see any
requirements for photo IDs or other restrictive measures but at the same time the legislature
has failed to follow the lead of other states which have adopted measures to make voting
easier.
New York does offer absentee voting with an excuse, but looks on as the majority of states
offer early voting (the time period varies from state to state) as well as no-excuse absentee
voting. Three states have adopted voting by mail, and Maine offers same day voter
registration. Rivertowns League can decide to urge our State League to prioritize the
adoption of early voting at the very least.
I hope your holidays were joyful and relaxing! Susan

BOARD BRIEFS
December 2015: We continued planning for the Hot Topics Breakfast in January.
LWVNYS suggests we make a wish list of things we would like to pursue if we had

more resources high on our list is revival of the Observer Corps. We heard from
CUNY law Professor Babe Howell and adopted concurrence on raising the age for
criminal prosecution in New York from 16 to 18.

MORE ABOUT VOTING


The right to vote in the U.S. has evolved continuously since the inception of the
Constitution in 1787 and the details are left to the states. The bumps in the road
to universal suffrage were outlined in a fascinating talk on December 18 by
eminent attorney John Nonna, former Mayor of Pleasantville and former County
Legislator. He traced the extension of the franchise from white male property
owners first to former slaves and then to women; but also traced the recent
success in some states to limit voting as a result of weakening of the Voting Rights
Act. He recommends that New York State adopt six days of early voting, to
broaden voter participation.
Mr. Nonna was recently appointed by the New York State Bar Association to a
committee to review the state constitution. . . . He also serves as co-chair of the
Board of Trustees for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law.
(Reported by Susan Goodwin.)

HOLIDAYS! LWVWESTCHESTER - Susan Goodwin


Rivertowns League was represented at the Westchester County League December
3 meeting and holiday luncheon by Susan Schwarz, Karen Schatzel, Edith Szold,
Lisa Cohen, and Susan Goodwin. At the board meeting it was noted that
attendance at county budget hearings had fallen off in recent years, partly due to
the difficulty for many to come to evening meetings. The LWVW will urge budget
director Larry Soule to schedule time for a daytime meeting next year. Karen
Schatzel reported on affordable housing issues, including the fact that the county
was on its way to fulfilling its obligations regarding the Housing Settlement by
purchasing single homes and condos as builders were not anxious to build larger
developments at this time. The featured speaker was the new Westchester
Community College President, Dr. Belinda Miles, who outlined an ambitious agenda
and improved communication. She welcomed WCCs partnership with the League
and established a connection for us to notify WCC students and faculty when
appropriate League programs are planned.

HOT TOPICS BREAKFAST


At our most recent Hot Topics Breakfast NORMA DRUMMOND, Westchester
County Deputy Commissioner of Planning, who discussed AFFORDABLE
HOUSING IN WESTCHESTER, the Settlement and its Costs? Co-sponsored

by: League of Women Voters of Westchester County, Interfaith Council for Action
and Hastings-on-Hudson Affordable Housing Committee, this was our most
successful Hot Topics Breakfast ever with 43 people attending. WESTCHESTER

BUDGET
In December, the Westchester County Board of Legislators approved (10-7) a
tight 2016 budget that avoids some funding cuts and staff layoffs proposed by
County Executive Astorino, yet manages to keep the tax levy flat for a sixth year.
It relies on a 4% increase from sales tax revenue (considered by critics too
optimistic); six county employees will be laid off, and sixty-four vacant positions
eliminated.
Quality of life restorations include: six full-time park curators (something our
LWVR Environment Group had lobbied for), the Muscoot Farm manager,
$100,000 for the Hudson River Museum (down $40,000 from 2015) $35,000 of the
$50,000 cut the Greenburgh Nature Center had faced.
League of Women Voters of Westchester had testified at a budget hearing
Westchester needs adequate staffing to fulfill its obligations. Yet the County
Executive would eliminate 60 jobs and cut another 25. Specifically, he proposes to
cut seven jobs in the Planning Department at a time when, already suffering
losses, it must deal with climatic events. He calls for the Board of Elections to give
up eight or nine positions while taking on School Board elections during a year in
which it must conduct three primaries, as well as a Presidential election. So far as
we know he has not been willing to raise salary levels of Public Works engineers
sufficiently to draw applicants to various posts, including head of the department.
The result is we lack expertise to supervise capital projects currently being
approved.
We live daily with problems of an aging infrastructure, all the more apparent as
winter approaches. The administration must take account of heightened
perceptions of threats to public safety. And proposed cuts to funding not only
undermine public healthcare, education, critical legal service programs and the
arts but also the quality of life that draws residents and businesses to Westchester
and helps promote higher property values.
. . . With regard to bonding, we recommend that debt be avoided for operating
expenditures.
In conclusion, we ask the Board to call for a property tax increase. County taxes
are a relatively small portion of the burden on Westchester residents. An increase
to the 2% cap currently permitted by the State would impact each household very
little while helping the County make up deficits of the past, avoid jeopardizing its
AAA credit rating and preserve the quality of life now enjoyed by nearly one million
residents in the County.

CONSENSUS and DEVELOPMENT CRITERIA REVIEW


The LWVR Waterfront consensus and Development Criteria (developed after study
and discussion) are ten years old! Are updates needed? The Consensus statement
appeared in a prior issue; please find Development Criteria on another page of this
bulletin, then submit suggestions to: elsailors@mail.com (Emma Lou Louis) - to
be considered by the Riverfront/Environment Group and LWVR Board, with final
decision by membership at the June annual meeting.
DISORDER IN THE COURTS - YOUTH OFFENDERS
Amid news stories of too aggressive policing and court disorder, LWVR had a
unique behind-the scenes look at (NY) justice when Babe Howell addressed the
December expanded board meeting and holiday luncheon. Prior to her present
position as Criminal Law Professor at CUNY, Ms. Howell was a public defender with
the Manhattan Legal Aid Society for many years. According to Ms. Howell,
prosecutors are powerful, time pressured, and risk averse; often process minor
offenses in two-three minutes, their record judged by success (conviction
record). (Its a numbers-driven system.) Plea deals are common, often in the
interest of resource efficiency. Unlawful conduct by police is unchecked. Minor
offenses often result from social malaise - marijuana, etc. - But, for the
perpetrator, being thrust into the criminal justice system becomes a predictor of
recidivism. Exposure to the system (school for crime) is a determinant of result.
Social services are inadequate for the many complex problems faced.
(This is only a sample of insights necessary to truly understand the problems of
youth justice.)

NYS TRANSPORTATION
Gladys Gifford, LWVNYS transportation specialist, urges advocacy for efficient and
equitable transportation, specifically legislation S5967/A8242. A small percentage
of income tax would be used to provide a steady, increasing revenue stream for
capital needs and transportation infrastructure, both upstate and downstate. This
issue will be part of 2016 budget hearings.

AT THE UN
A new UN Women policy brief series synthesizes research regarding gender and
equality, to enrich policy debate and influence decision making - can be accessed
at

http:// www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2015/12/un-women-policybrief-series. These include:


1. Making national social protection floors work for women.
2. Gender equality, child development and job creation.
3. Protecting womens income security in old age.
4. Why macroeconomic policy matters for gender equality.

from CAMPAIGN FOR NEW YORK HEALTH, nyhealthcampaign.org


The New York Health Act would provide universal, comprehensive single payer
health coverage to all New Yorkers (regardless of immigration status) without
premiums, co-pays, deductibles, or limited provider networks. New York Health will
pay for care, not private industry profit. Our lead co-sponsors Assembly Member
Richard Gottfried and State Senator Bill Perkins are working tirelessly to get the bill
to the Governors desk. We must change the conversation from its a great idea
that will never happen to a truly achievable goal.

WHATS NEW IN HEALTH CARE - by Edith Szold


In a word, it is arbitration a means of settling disputes outside the purview of
the courts, long favored by business, in part to protect corporate profits.
Streamlined and fast, it grew in popularity over the last ten years, spreading
throughout the economy from the financial sector to consumer goods and,
reportedly even into the realm of medical treatment where lives, not hardware can
be at stake. One Ob-Gyn office in Tampa, FL informs expectant mothers that if a
problem arises (a botched delivery or flawed Caesarean) they cannot go to court.
More commonly this happens in nursing homes (for example: a 90 year old
demented patient whose bed-sores would not be treated by the nursing homes
physician if her guardian did not agree to binding arbitration. (NY Times, Nov. 1
2015).
On November 1st, 2nd, and 3rd of 2015 the NY Times published an expose about this
practice, two years after the second relevant Supreme Court decision upheld the
right of corporations to demand it. I wrote this to alert you to the results, having
just learned about them myself. The information here-in comes from those
articles, based on extensive research by the Times reporters, enquiries of lawyers
familiar with arbitration and my own brief stint as an arbitrator with the Better
Business Bureau of Westchester.
As it is used today arbitration is a private confidential process. It takes place
behind closed doors, with cases heard and decided by one or more arbitrators,
unencumbered by juries or rules of evidence, and from whose decisions there is
virtually no appeal. In addition, it is usually accompanied by a ban of class actions.
Since realistically, that is the only legal recourse the ordinary person has to
challenge a corporation, he is effectively deprived of his right to a day in court.

What made this possible were two decisions, as noted above, in 2011 and 2013 by
the Supreme Court upholding the right of corporations to insert clauses to the
above effect within their contracts. The class action ban was of particular
importance because such suits are so expensive to defend and/or to settle. They
needed to be banned and a consortium of corporations met to find a way to do so.
John G. Roberts, Jr., then a prominent corporate defense lawyer, helped get the
Supreme Court to intervene. In 2013, the Court (by then the Roberts Court) upheld
a lower courts decision to affirm the ban 5 to 4 with Justice Scalia, standing for the
majority, and Justice Kagan et al heatedly dissenting. The upshot was is an
alternative system of social justice, which the courts cannot touch and which
perpetuated grossly unequal playing fields. As for medical matters, the likelihood
is that devices, like heart valves, defibrillators and prostheses will be similarly
bound if they are not already.
How does this work out in practice? That all depends. There are many firms that
do arbitration, supplying experts in various areas of dispute (architects, physicians,
plumbers). The largest are the American Arbitration Association and JAMS which
strive for professionalism and lack of bias. However, arbitration is a business and
arbitrators, who do get paid, depend on the companies, not the customers or
plaintiffs, for repeat referrals. The short answer is that nobody actually knows.
The secrecy that shrouds the process is purposefully maintained, from clauses
buried in contracts that few people read before they sign and dont know what
they have agreed to, or the consequences thereof, to the free-for-alls that can
disrupt proceedings, making fraud, lies and other illegal acts.
Nobody is meant to know and, if some do, the public, amazingly, seems largely
unconcerned. Its time, I think, for us to be disturbed and badger Congress, in the
coming year, to act on our behalf.
NATURALIZATION COURT - by Susan Weisfeld
As I walked into the courtroom at the White Plains County Courthouse, filled to
capacity, I heard excited voices in many languages. People were dressed so
beautifully, surrounded by family members and friends. I came as a representative
of the League of Women Voters to be part of this momentous day, achieving
citizenship, which was my own unforgettable milestone when I was a third-grade
student at P. S. 169 in Brooklyn.
When the presiding judge entered I was wonderfully surprised to see it was the Hon.
Charles Wood Charlie(!) son of my neighbors Arline and George - now a
Supreme Court Justice! He opened the court by proclamation, and then the Deputy
County Clerk announced, Your honor, I would like to introduce 118 new citizens
who have been examined by the Immigration Service and have been found to

comply with all the regulations. And thats when tears welled up in my eyes. The
moment was so incredible!
Everyone rose and the new citizens repeated the oath of allegiance administered by
the County Clerk, Tim Idoni, who is the grandson of immigrants and happily does
this every two weeks. This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance; everyone
applauded. The faces were so different, but all had the same emotion. It was
moving in the midst of such pride and joy!
Judge Wood gave a wonderful speech to the new citizens, welcoming them and
highlighting the uniqueness of equality and inalienable rights guaranteed by our
laws. He also spoke briefly of his own history. Finally he spoke about both the
rights and responsibilities of citizenship saying always love the place you were
born, but now dedicate yourself to the place you chose to come . . . we rely on you
to promote and contribute to this exceptional nation.
Lining up when called, each new citizen then came to the front to get their
certificate of naturalization and the Judge and County Clerk posed with each for a
memento photo. Then it was my turn; I was able to greet everyone individually
with a welcome booklet and showed them where they could apply for a passport
and register to vote. Many told me they had waited for this day and couldnt wait
to register. LWVRs next date for Naturalization Court is February 24.

JN THE RIVERTOWNS
We welcome two new members Diane Dowling of Croton and Judy Lindey of
Ardsley.
Condolences to Carolyn Reiss on the passing of her husband.

Looking ahead - IMPORTANT DATES!


Saturday, Feb. 13: Rivertowns LWV Board Meeting - Hastings Community
Center 10:00 a.m. Board meetings are open and we welcome your
participation.
Sunday, Jan 24: Fix It Health Care at the Tipping Point LWV Westchester
Sponsors Forum and Film on Health Care Crisis 1:30 p.m. - The State
Assembly has passed a bill for a single payer health care in New York, and
advocates are now focusing on State Senate passage. For further
information, call 914-761-4382.
Monday, Mar. 7: Waterfront/Environment Group home of Emma Lou Louis,
125 Bellair Drive, Dobbs Ferry, (693-1726) 1:30 p.m. - ALL WELCOME

Wednesday, Feb 24: Naturalization Court White Plains - If you would like to
attend contact Rhoda Barr. (478-1144 or mbrb29@optonline. net) Its an
inspiring experience.
Thursday, Apr. 14: Running and Winning
Sunday, May 22 to Wednesday May 25: Students inside Albany The
deadline for students and parents to submit forms to LWVNYS is March 1,
2016
Future LWVR Board meetings: Hastings Community Center - 10:00 a.m. - Mar
12, Apr 9, May 14, Annual Meeting Jun date TBD

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LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS
OF THE RIVERTOWNS
P.O. Box 142
Hastings-on-Hudson, NY 10706

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