Making Democracy Work

2019 Local Media Columns

2019 Columns

Local Media Columns

Times Beacon Record newspapers

TimesBeaconRecord newspapers: The Village Times Herald, The Port Times Record, The Village Beacon Record, The Times of Middle County, The Times of Smithtown and The Times of Huntington-Northport now publish a monthly League of Women Voters of Suffolk County column in their Arts & Lifestyles section.

How Girl Scouts Taught Us the Power of One

The April 18 TBR Media column appears below:

Making Democracy Work: How Girl Scouts Taught Us the Power of One
by Lisa Scott

A few weeks ago, the League was asked by the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County to assist voters at an event on April 8. What the League learned that night about the vision, empowerment and maturity of our "not-yet voters" is truly inspirational and remarkable. Keep in mind Girl Scouting's mission: building girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.

Today, a civil discourse on most issues is nearly impossible. Most influencers seem to drown out individuals who want to learn "the story behind the story" and reach thoughtful well-researched conclusions. Yet the Girl Scouts' participation in and embracing the 12,000 Voices initiative was a model for us all.

The name 12,000 Voices was chosen for its aspirational value. Start with readings of "12 Angry Men" performed by 12 Impassioned Women, over the course of one weekend, all over the country: in high schools, community and regional theaters, community colleges, universities and community centers. Over the course of time, imagine readings in 1000 locations, accumulating 12,000 voices. The event is planned to take place nationally every year.

The readings took place in every nook & cranny of the country: red, blue and purple communities in all 50 states. And after each staged reading there was an opportunity to update voter registration and learn about voter engagement. Voter suppression is real. Gerrymandering is real. Individual voices and votes matter.

We can increase awareness and participation through the power of girls' and women's voices as they read this classic play. Only one juror votes "not guilty." As tempers flare and the arguments begin, the audience learns about each member of the jury. The power of one impassioned voice, speaking with conviction, is breathtaking.

And what did the girls take away from this experience? That taking positive risks build confidence and leadership skills. They developed greater understanding of the extreme importance of the role of a jury in our judicial system; a civic duty that should be welcomed, not avoided. Girl Scouts promise to serve their country and help people at all times, and civic engagement fits very well within this pledge. They feel empowered, they know they have a voice within the civic community, and that their voices and opinions matter.

Additionally Girl Scouts of Suffolk County was delighted to have a show of amazing diversity among its women actors, with a wide range of ages, cultural backgrounds, and life experience, which is quite different from the original cast of "12 Angry Men." Such diversity brought a refreshing and exciting tone to the script, and strengthened the message of the show, allowing it to become that much more significant.

The audience ranged in age from middle-schoolers through grandparents, but each person was able to take away a clear and cogent understanding of the power of individuals to make a difference in situations both small and personal, or national and affecting our place in in society and the planet we all share. Let's all learn from Girl Scouts; they will be our future leaders.

For more information on Girl Scouting in Suffolk County, visit gssc.us or call (631) 543-6622. The League looks forward to strengthening our partnerships with Girl Scouts and encouraging youth civic education and engagement in a nonpartisan environment.

Lisa Scott is President of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

View the above article on the TimesBeaconRecord Media website here

Ensure Easier Voting in November

The March 14 TBR Media column appears below:

Making Democracy Work: Ensure Easier Voting in November
by Lisa Scott

Voting is about to get easier for New Yorkers. New York has long been behind most of the country when it comes to voting. Our election laws were archaic, making it difficult for people to vote and resulting in low voter turnout. However, both the NYS Assembly and Senate passed several bills on election law, most of which have been signed into law by Governor Cuomo. Not all are effective immediately and some will require additional money to be added in the state budget. Other reforms such as no-excuse absentee ballots and same day voter registration must go through the NYS Constitution amendment process, which will delay their implementation for at least three years.

Early voting will take place for the first time in New York for the 2019 general election on November 5. (Thirty-eight states and District of Columbia have already instituted in-person early voting.) Voters will be able to vote at designated poll sites 10 days prior to election day. Each County Board of Elections will follow the law designating the number of and placement of the early voting poll sites and notify voters of the days, hours, and locations of the early polling sites. But all NYS county boards of elections (especially those like Suffolk County which have large populations and geographic areas) face a myriad of challenges to meet the early voting law requirements.

The League of Women Voters of New York (LWVNY) estimates the cost of statewide early voting to be $9.3 million for implementation in the 2019 general election. The law requires 1 site per 50,000 registered voters over a period of 9 days with 8 hours of weekday early voting and 5 hours of weekend early voting.

The projected cost areas include poll sites (rental fees for 83 additional sites throughout NYS); staffing and training (training session costs and staffing compensation); voting equipment (some counties may need to purchase new equipment including electronic poll books); security (voting machines and ballots must be secure 24/7 throughout the period of early voting) and education (statewide mailings advising all registered voters- this would be a one-time cost).

In particular, electronic poll books (utilizing secure tablets or laptops with data downloaded in advance eliminating wifi/hacking concerns) are essential for Suffolk and similar multi-site early-voting counties in NYS. They allow greater ease and accuracy during the early voting period, and will have long term cost savings after their initial investment. They provide a fast check-in process, reducing the propensity for long lines. They reduce the need for provisional ballots because voters' records can be searched for in multiple ways. And if a voter is in the wrong place, she can quickly be directed to the correct precinct in order to cast a regular ballot. Additionally they can be updated right before the election, reducing the rush to enter registration and updates in time to print and distribute paper poll books; and they make post-election updates much faster and accurate. Three NYS counties conducted successful pilot projects utilizing electronic poll books last year.

As of mid-March 2019, Governor Cuomo did not include funding for early voting in his January 2019 Executive Budget (and his February amendment proposals). LWVNY and other good-government groups have been lobbying NYS Senate and Assembly members to include early voting funding in their budget amendments in March. NYS law requires a budget by April 1 each year- so there will be substantial negotiations for the governor and the NYS Senate president and Assembly speaker in late March. The governor contends that significant savings from a consolidated single state primary will be adequate to cover early voting costs. But there is only one primary date in 2019, so that money will only become available in 2020. Absent funding for early voting in the 2019 NYS budget, each county will have to find its own funding for early voting this year. Suffolk County will thus face a substantial unfunded mandate from NYS in a time of decreasing revenues and substantial borrowing. Contact your NYS Senate and Assembly leadership and representatives and Governor Cuomo now to ensure appropriate funding for a successful early voting rollout in November!

Lisa Scott is President of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

View the above article on the TimesBeaconRecord Media website here

Curb Gun Violence with Common Sense Legislative Solutions

The February 14 TBR Media column appears below:

Making Democracy Work: Curb Gun Violence with Common Sense Legislative Solutions
by Nancy Marr

According to the Gun Violence Archive, the number of mass shootings during 2018 in the United States has been estimated at 346, with 18 of them in schools. But laws backed by the NRA and other pro-gun groups prevent the public from seeing which firearms dealers are selling the most guns used in crimes, information the federal government collects but won't share, even with premier research universities. The NRA also pushed through rules that had a chilling effect on federal studies focused on how guns affect public health, denying policy makers a road map for better gun laws.

Regulating the ownership and use of guns by the federal government began in the 20's and 30's with support from the general public and the NRA, then a sporting and hunting association. Since then the federal government and the states have passed legislation requiring background checks, waiting periods, licenses for concealed weapons carriers, restrictions on purchases for certain high risk people, and a ban on assault weapons and ammunition. In 1980 the Brady Bill, against NRA opposition, tightened the background check requirements and created the FBI NICS system to provide speedy background checks. After the shooting at Sandy Hook governments turned their attention to preventing shootings by high risk people. New York State passed the Safe Act, amending its Mental Hygiene Law to add a new reporting requirement that mental health professionals currently providing treatment services to an individual must make a report to authorities, "if they conclude that the individual is likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others." The Act requires those who live with a household member "who has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence crime, has been involuntarily committed, or is currently under an order of protection" to "safely store" and lock any guns in a secure gun cabinet."

NRA opponents of the regulations state that the laws only hurt people who adhere to current firearms laws, and the regulations about gun locking devices prevent gun owners from using their guns in self-defense.

The League of Women Voters of the United States has been in support of stricter laws for background checks, more gun safety education, a ban on assault weapons, and protection for victims of domestic violence from abusers who possess guns. The LWV of New York supported legislation to establish criminal sanctions for possession and sale of assault weapons, which were banned in 1994 but released from the ban In 2004.

Currently, on both the federal and state levels there are laws that are being considered during this session that would deal with many of the loopholes and problems of illegal firearm use.

On the federal level, proposed legislation this term includes: requiring unlicensed sellers to meet their buyers (with certain exceptions) at a licensed gun dealer who would run a background check using the same process used for his own inventory; support for a ban on assault weapons; broadening the definition of domestic abusers to the laws protecting victims of domestic violence; and opposing a national bill that allows people to carry concealed weapons.

On the NYS level, in January the Assembly and the Senate passed six important gun control bills related to: an extreme risk protection order (erpo/"red flag") law; background checks extension; a bump stock ban; a ban on arming educators; out-of-state mental health records check; and gun buyback programs. In February we hope that Governor Cuomo signs these bills, and that the needed regulations are written and appropriate funding allocated.

Contact your US Representative and NYS Senator and Assembly member to find out how they voted or plan to vote, and what they think of these bills. Thank them if they did vote for those you care about, and clearly communicate your concerns and advocacy when they did not. For more information, go to the Senate or Assembly websites to research details on the individual bills or check with individual Congressional or NYS Legislative aides via phone or email. Make your voice heard on this important issue.

Nancy Marr is first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

View the above article on the TimesBeaconRecord Media website here

A Step Forward to Achieve Pay Equity in Suffolk County What Next?

The January 17 TBR Media column appears below:

Making Democracy Work: A Step Forward to Achieve Pay Equity in Suffolk County- What Next?
by Lisa Scott

Somewhat quietly in late 2018, the Suffolk County Legislature and County Executive Bellone added an important tool to the fight for pay equity: The Restricting Information on Salaries and Earnings (RISE) Act. The League commends the entire Legislature and the County Executive for taking this action- it's fair, it's sound economics, it can reduce the need to pay for additional social support for working families. And it's good for Suffolk County's citizens. It shows that our County's Legislators and Executive can work to reclaim their place as innovative, socially responsible elected officials while operating with foresight in a fiscally prudent manner.

Why should pay equity be a concern for us all? Race and gender are significant factors in what women earn for doing the exact same jobs as men. In April 2018, The NYS Dept. of Labor reported that Suffolk County women in general earn just 78.1 cents for every dollar a man earns. Comparably, black women are paid about 64 cents for every white male dollar and the pay gap of Latina women is about 55 cents to a white man's salary dollar. Equal Pay Day in April reflects how long AFTER the end of the year a woman has to work before she takes home the same amount of earnings as a man in the prior year- Thus, over 15 months of work for a woman to earn what a comparable man earned in 12 months!

Pay inequality isn't just a women's issue; it is a family issue. Recent research has found that 42 percent of mothers with children under the age of 18 are their families' primary or sole breadwinners. Wage discrimination can impair their ability to buy homes and pay for a college education and limits their total lifetime earnings, thereby reducing their retirement savings and benefits.

Gender pay inequity and low wages put the burden of meeting the expenses of employees squarely on the backs of local taxpayers, who make up the difference in the costs of living with social safety net programs. The pay gap not only hurts women and their families, but it also hurts the communities they support. That means local businesses are hurt through lost sales, as are local schools and governments that depend on sales tax and property tax dollars to fund the programs and the infrastructure those communities need to exist. In New York State, social service costs are paid directly by country governments who then must wait for state and federal reimbursement.

If pay equity makes good economic sense for our communities, how does the RISE act work towards this goal? The bill, which takes effect on June 30, 2019 was initially created to restrict employers from using salary and benefits history when establishing salary and benefits for new employees. The legislature explained that utilizing this information in decision making perpetuates wage discrimination and the wage gap experienced by women, racial and ethnic minorities, and employees returning to the workforce after an extended period away.

Gov. Cuomo recently signed an "equal pay for work of equal value bill" which directs the president of the civil service commission to study and publish a report evaluating public employers' wage disparities related to the job titles segregated by the gender, race and/or national origin of the employees in the title. Once completed, the study will be delivered to the Governor and the leaders of the legislature, and the data from the study will be used to address pay inequities in the state's workforce. "New York State has to be a leader on this issue + a model of reform," the bill's sponsor, Assembly member Barbara Lifton said. "By getting our own house in order and ensuring that our public employees are being paid fairly for the work that they are doing, we are sending the wider message that wage disparities cannot be tolerated in a society that prides itself on treating everyone fairly."

The NYS Legislature is only in session until June. We must advocate now to strengthen our equal pay laws so that women have the tools they need to fight back against pay discrimination.

The League's work on pay equity stemmed from member concern over the feminization of poverty in the 1980's. Additional sources for pay equity information and advocacy include AAUW, PowHerNY, National Women's Law Center and the Center for American Progress.

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

View the above article on the TimesBeaconRecord Media website here