Senate Passes Initiative And Referendum

Thomas P. Morahan

June 08, 2006

New York State Senator Thomas P. Morahan today announced New York State Senate passage of a constitutional amendment (S.6020) 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.

"By enacting initiative and referendum, we will be ensuring that the people of this state play a more integral role in the decision-making process. Ensuring that the power is in the hands of the people is the best way to strengthen the foundation of our democracy," said Senator Morahan.

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 and referendum.

The proposal 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 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 A measure enacted through initiative and referendum could not be repealed or amended by the Legislature for at least two years, and any modifications after that period could only be made with voter approval. Measures could be amended or repealed by the voters through the initiative and referendum process at any time.

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 the ballot meaning every two years and the measure would also have to be approved by the voters at two such elections.

The bill 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, so if passed again by the next Legislature, it would go before voters in November 2009.

The bill was sent to the Assembly.