Robach Announces The Passage Of Initiative And Referendum Legislation In Senate

Joseph E. Robach

June 15, 2005

Senator Robach announced today that the Senate has passed a constitutional amendment (S.1370) that would give New Yorkers a more direct role in the legislative process by empowering them to enact and amend laws through initiative and referendum.

"As a long time advocate for government reform, I strongly believe that this is an important step to changing the way the New York Legislature does business" stated Senator Robach. "Establishing I&R in New York will result in a more open, more responsive and, most importantly, more effective government."

An initiative is a proposed statutory or constitutional change that is placed on the ballot for a public vote; referendum refers to the power of the people to place on the ballot, laws that already have been enacted by the Legislature and either accept or reject them in whole or in part. Approximately one half of states across the nation have some form of initiative or referendum.

Robach continued "Initiative and Referendum can be one of the most powerful tools in giving people the ability to directly vote on decisions that impact them. It is not only good democracy, but it is as American as baseball and apple pie."

The proposal, which was submitted as a program bill by Governor Pataki, would amend the State Constitution to allow for direct initiative and referendum, whereby measures are placed on the ballot at the November general election for a popular vote after a certain number of signatures are collected. Under the proposal, 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 this State’s congressional districts.

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 A measure enacted through initiative and referendum could not be repealed or amended by the Legislature for at least two years, and any modifications after that period could only be made with voter approval. Measures could be amended or repealed by the voters through the initiative and referendum process at any time.

Under the proposal, the State Constitution could also be amended through initiative and referendum, but measures to amend the State Constitution could only be voted on during a general election in which State legislators are on a ballot meaning every two years and the measure would also have to be approved by the voters at two elections.

The bill also allows for initiative and referendum at the county, city, town and 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 municipalities.

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.