1967 Constitutional Convention
What would be different about how New York State is governed today if the State Constitution proposed by the 1967 constitutional convention were adopted at the polls?
by Gerald Benjamin and Henrik N. Dullea
Those opposed to calling a state constitutional convention in New York today argue: “The last time we did it we failed. What makes you think we won’t fail again?”
And in truth it is fair to say that the 1967 failed politically; the constitution it produced was not adopted at the polls.
But did this happen because the proposed document contained a lot of bad ideas? Or was a document containing a good deal of positive change was poorly presented to the people, empowering defenders of the status quo?
Almost a half century later, a look back at what the draft 1967 constitution actually contained makes clear that, if it were adopted, state and local government in New York today would look different and work much differently than it does.
Would it be better? Would it be worse? Take a look at the thirty-three ideas listed below, provisions that went down when the 1967 constitution went down. And then decide for yourself.
1. There would be a five member commission redistricting the state legislature and Congress, chaired by an appointee of the Court of Appeals. Membership by legislators would be barred. “Gerrymandering for any purpose” would be prohibited.
2. The would be a constitutional requirement for fair districting in New York’s local governments
3. There would be 60 members of the state Senate. The number would be fixed.
4. All public assistance and Medicaid costs not paid for by the national government would be borne by the state budget. There would be no mandated local share.
5. There would be explicit state constitutional protections against discrimination on the basis of age, sex or physical or mental handicap.
6. A constitution prohibition of aid to parochial schools (the Blaine Amendment), since rendered largely ineffectual, would no longer be in the state constitution, replaced by the language of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution
7. A citizen would be constitutionally protected in his or her right to sue the state if he or she thought it was spending money unconstitutionally. This provision was deemed to include the right of citizens to sue for violations of the forest preserve provisions.
8. State and local governments’ community economic development responsibilities would not be in question, but would be constitutionally specified, supported and legitimized.
9. The popular referendum requirement for the approval of state debt would not exist, though there would be a constitutional debt service limit, inked to general revenue receipts, on aggregate state and public authority debt.
10. Public higher education would have constitutional status. The State University of New York and City University of New York would be specifically recognized.
11. Electronic eavesdropping or surveillance for law enforcement purposes would be explicitly constitutionally limited.
12. There would be an explicit state constitutional guarantee of the right to counsel “at every stage of the proceeding” in all criminal matters.
13. There would be a constitutional guarantee of openness in state government.
14. “Unfair, inequitable or dishonest sales, marketing and financing practices” would be constitutionally specified as a matter of state concern.
15. The governor would have constitutional authority to reorganize state government, subject to legislative veto.
16. Vacancies in state elective offices would be filled by election as soon as practicable after they arose.
17. The state court system would be better structured and organized, with judicial staffing more responsive to need and workload.
18. District courts would be a viable option for counties outside New York City.
19. There would be a constitutional basis for procedures for administrative rule making and adoption.
20. More equitable assessment of real property for taxation, with a viable option of moving the function to the county level, would be constitutionally based and encouraged.
21. While the Adirondack and Catskill Preserves would remain “forever wild,” localities within the “blue lines” would enjoy the same capacity for home rule without amending the state constitution as do places elsewhere in New York.
22. It would be the constitutionally-based policy of the state “to conserve and protect its natural resources and scenic beauty and encourage the development and improvement of its agricultural lands for the production of food and other agricultural products.” The legislature, in implementing this policy, would be constitutionally directed to make “adequate provision for the abatement of air and water pollution and of excessive and unnecessary noise, the protection of agricultural lands, wetlands and shorelines, and the development and regulation of water resources.”
23. Unless overcome by later litigation based upon the U.S. constitution, New Yorkers would vote where they were “domiciled,” with “domicile” defined in the constitution.
24. There would no longer be an affirmative constitutional obligation of the state to aid the needy. However, Article I, 10a of the new constitution provided that “It shall be the policy of the state to foster and promote the general welfare and to establish a firm basis of economic security for the people of the state,” and Article XII, 12.a.noted that “economic and community development purposes shall include the renewal and rebuilding of communities, the development of new communities, and programs and facilities to enhance the physical environment, health and social well-being of, and to encourage the expansion of economic opportunity for, the people of the state.”
25. Claims against the state would no longer be time bound. (Art. III, 5e)
26. Equality of educational opportunity would be guaranteed to all the people of the state.
27. State aid to school districts would be based on registration rather than attendance and would consider the “special educational needs, if any, of the students in each district and the total local tax burden of the taxpayers of each district.”
28. Defendants would have a right to a jury trial for offenses punishable by a term of imprisonment of more than six months.
29. Judges would be permitted to dispense with bail for non-capital offenses if the court is reasonably satisfied that a defendant will appear when directed.
30. The addition of “public campsites of the kind presently constructed and maintained, and in areas similar to those in which they are presently located,” would be permitted in the forest preserve.
31. The “welfare of the child” would be the primary concern in determining adoption or guardianship decisions. Article V, sec. 27.
32. Discrimination in the admission to any school receiving public funds would be prohibited.
33. The Public Service Commission would have four members appointed by the governor and three members elected by the legislature sitting in joint session.