Senator Flanagan Sponsors Enhanced Citizen Participation

John J. Flanagan

June 09, 2006

Senator John J. Flanagan (2nd Senate District) announced today that a constitutional amendment he sponsored to provide residents with a more direct role in the affairs of government has passed the Senate. The Initiative and Referendum amendment would empower the public to join together to enact and amend laws.

"The power of the people should be expanded beyond simply voting for a candidate on election day. This amendment would open up the halls of our government so that everyone has the power to bring an idea to the people of New York State. The voters of this state should have the right to change what they wish and to join together to decide their future," stated Senator Flanagan.

The legislation the Senate passed would amend the State Constitution to allow for direct initiative and referendum to place measures on the ballot at the November general election for a popular vote after a certain number of signatures are collected.

An initiative is a proposal, offered by the citizens, that amends the constitution or proposes a new law. A referendum refers to the ability of the people to call for a vote on laws that have already been enacted into law and either accept or reject them in whole or in part.

Under the proposal Senator Flanagan sponsored, signatures from five percent of the total voters statewide in the last gubernatorial election would be required. To ensure that a measure has a broad base of statewide support, these signatures would be required to include at least 5,000 signatures of residents from at least three-fifths of the State's congressional districts.

Once on the ballot, an initiative or referendum would become law if it receives a majority of the votes cast. A measure enacted through initiative and referendum could not be repealed or amended by the Legislature for at least two years, and any modifications after that period could only be made with voter approval.

Measures could be amended or repealed by the voters through the initiative and referendum process at any time.

According to the legislation, the State Constitution could also be amended through initiative and referendum. But a vote on such a proposal could only be voted on during a general election every two years when the State Legislature members are on the ballot. The measure would also have to be approved by the voters at two such elections.

The legislation also allows for initiative and referendum at the county, city, town or village level. To propose any measure at the local level, signatures from at least five percent of the residents in the municipality who voted in the last gubernatorial election would be required. A measure would become law if it receives the approval of the majority of voters within the municipality.

Any amendment to the State Constitution, such as this proposal, must be approved by two separately elected Legislatures and thereafter by a majority of the voters of the State.

"The Conservative Party of New York State has long supported initiative and referendum because we believe that by offering voters the chance to have a direct voice in state and local government, more people will become interested and involved," Michael Long, Chairman of the Conservative Party, said. "We applaud the Senate for acting on this bill because letting the voters decide what is best for them could make an enormous difference on many issues facing the people of this state."

Approximately one-half of states across the nation have some form of initiative and referendum. The bill was sent to the Assembly.