Interfaith Impact of NYS Positions

IINYS distributes these papers to the Legislature, the Executive Chamber, and to members and friends of IINYS. We encourage individual, social justice committees, and others to copy and distribute them and use them as the basis for letters to the editor, Facebook posts and posts to other social media. They are also useful when preparing to meet your representatives.

 “Let New York Vote” Legislation

 Reinhold Niebuhr once wisely said that “(Our) capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but (our) inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” 

Democracy is the capacity of the people to participate in the decisions that affect their lives. In political terms it is the right to govern themselves, to elect their representatives, and to advocate with them for the services government can provide. 

On January 24, Governor Cuomo signed significant voting and election reforms into law: early voting, consolidated primary dates, pre-registration of teenagers; state-wide voter registration and legislation on Limited liability corporations (LLCs). 

However, there is much more to be done. We support the following legislative initiatives: 

Two proposed constitutional amendments passed in January must be passed again in two years by the next elected Legislature and then approved by state-wide referendum: 

  • Allow for voter registration on the same day as an election 
  • Allow for no-excuse absentee ballots 

Reforms that are still needed include: 

  • Funding for early voting, so that counties can pay for start-up costs and training and education. 
  • Electronic poll books (S508 / A2070), easier to update and maintain than the current paper books used in New York State. 
  • The Voter Friendly Ballot Act (S2300 / A26782) to provide more readable, well-designed ballots. 
  • Automatic restoration of the right to vote for all New Yorkers who are on parole (S1931). 
  • Automatic voter registration, to be implemented in DMV and other state agencies. 
  • A deadline for changing party affiliation that is closer to the primary date. 
  • A small donor matching system for campaign financing. 

The members of Interfaith Impact believe that civic involvement for the benefit of all is a religious obligation. We support these bills because democracy, for us, is a religious principle.

 

Elimination of Cash Bail

 The members of Interfaith Impact of NYS strongly support the Bail Elimination Act of 2018 (S3579A/A5033A). We will support a similar act in the 2019 session. 

Eliminate cash bail because: 

  • Cash bail discriminates against the poor and privileges those who can afford to buy their freedom. 
  • In most cases, a release on recognizance with a reminder shortly before their next court date works. 
  • Cash bail is racist in its application. It’s an egregious example of Jim Crow justice. Blacks and Hispanics are routinely assessed 50% to 100% more for misdemeanor crimes than Whites. 
  • Cash bail is expensive for New York Taxpayers. On average, nearly 70% of the inmates in our county jails are there because they cannot afford to post bail. Releasing that population would be a major savings. 
  • The pre-trial incarceration of the poor who can’t afford bail punishes the innocent, destroys families, and ruins lives. 
  • It is cruel, inhumane, and ultimately has little effect on whether the accused who have been released return for trial. 

For more about cash bail, see www.katalcenter.org. 

The members of Interfaith Impact of NYS represent clergy and activists from Unitarian Universalist, Reform Jewish, Mainline Protestant and other faiths across New York State. We are appalled by the profoundly unjust system of cash bail that exists in our justice system. This can and should be remedied as soon as possible.

 

Establish Environmental Rights in the NYS Constitution 

“Each person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.” 

CONCURRENT RESOLUTION OF THE SENATE AND ASSEMBLYproposing an amendment to article 1 of the constitution, in relation to the right to clean air and water and a healthful environment. Section 1. Resolved (if the Senate concur), that article 1 of the constitution be amended by adding a new section 19 to read as follows: S 19. ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS. EACH PERSON SHALL HAVE A RIGHT TO CLEAN AIR AND WATER, AND A HEALTHFUL ENVIRONMENT. 

Many people are surprised that we do not already have the right to clean air and water or a healthful environment, but we do not. Together, we can change that. To get on a November ballot for us (“we the people”) to vote on it, this resolution must be passed twice by our representatives in the legislature, with an election in between. It does not require the Governor’s signature. 

Once incorporated into the NYS Constitution, this visionary moral statement will have a beneficial influence on our shared environment for as long as this Constitution shall last. These words are vital for ourselves, our families, and our communities. The Assembly passed this bill during the last session but not the Senate. It’s up to both houses of the NY Legislature to pass it this year and again in 2021, so the people of New York can vote to make it part of our Constitution. 

 

Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act 

Interfaith Impact of NYS strongly supports passage of the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act (A.3675 Crespo/S.1747 Sepulveda). 

We support the work of the Green Light NY Coalition in seeking to secure the right of New York State Drivers Licenses for undocumented immigrants. We are pleased to take a stance on this justice issue, knowing that it was selected by the undocumented workers themselves as a high priority that would significantly improve the quality of their lives. 

Many undocumented people work in isolation on rural farms and have almost unsurmountable challenges getting to a grocery store, taking children to school, or even getting to a doctor’s appointment. We believe that New York State should join the l2 states across the United States (including our neighboring states of Connecticut and Vermont) that ALREADY provide access to licenses for all residents, regardless of immigration status. 

It is our understanding that undocumented workers would readily participate in and boost the local economies, as well as paying millions of dollars in license and registration fees. When all workers can license and insure their vehicles, the rate of accidents with uninsured motorists will decline, offering lower insurance rates for all. 

We the members of the governing Board of Directors of IINYS thus ask our legislators to support legislation giving drivers licenses to immigrants as soon as possible. 

Interfaith IMPACT of New York State is a statewide coalition of congregations and individuals from Protestant, Reform Jewish, Unitarian Universalist, and other faith traditions working for the common good through progressive religious advocacy. 

 

The Climate and Community Protection Act

Interfaith Impact of NYS is a statewide organization of people of faith, clergy and congregations from the Unitarian Universalist, Reform Jewish, Protestant, and other traditions. 

As members of a religious organization that values the health and welfare of our fellow human beings, as well as the health of the environment, which sustains us all physically and spiritually, the members of Interfaith Impact of New York State call on the NY Legislature to recognize the urgent need for clean energy as soon as possible. We recognize that New York has come a long way in protecting our environment, but we need to move faster. 

The Assembly passed the Climate and Community Protection Act in April 2018, but the Senate, despite having a majority in favor, did not bring it to the floor for a vote. 

The people of New York deserve this bill now. Among other things, it will regulate carbon emissions, enable greener transportation, and protect vulnerable communities which are disproportionately affected by climate change. This bill also supports the State energy plan and has wide support throughout New York. 

We believe it is urgent to further address and mitigate the impacts of climate change in New York. The CCPA will help put New York on track to do just that through a combination of measures to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions and improve the resiliency of the state. It will shape the ongoing transition in the State’s energy sector to ensure that it creates good jobs and protects workers and communities by prioritizing the safety and health of disadvantaged communities. It will help ensure a vibrant, healthful future for all New Yorkers and pave the way for a green-energy economy. 

We urge the Senate to act now and pass the Climate and Community Protection Act (S2992/A876) in the current session. 

 

HALT Solitary Confinement Act 

Interfaith Impact of New York State strongly support the Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act (A2500/S1623). HALT is designed to end the torture of solitary and create more humane and effective alternatives. 

Isolated confinement involves confining people in a cell for 22 to 24 hours a day without meaningful human contact, programming or therapy. Studies show that prisoners detained in these conditions deteriorate psychologically, physically, and socially. The system also appears to be racially biased, with a disproportionate number of non-whites confined to solitary compared to their representation in the prison population. Despite these facts, New York utilizes isolated confinement at rates well above the national average. We can help put a stop to this cruel practice by passing the HALT Act. 

This Act does not eliminate Solitary Confinement as a means of maintaining order and safety within correction institutions. What it does is set criteria and put limits on the use of isolation confinement, which human-rights experts regard as torture after 15 consecutive days. 

In New York, there are prisoners right now who have spent months and in some cases years, even decades in solitary confinement. This is unnecessary, cruel, and repugnant to those of us who value human beings. 

Every morning, more than 4,000 New Yorkers wake up in a prison cell, about the size of a parking space, which they will leave for at most 1 hour during the entire day. They will have no meaningful human con­tact–even during the 1 hour out of cell–no programs and no activities. Such condi­tions, over time, do lasting psychological damage. Our state confines far too many people in these brutal conditions.

 Prisoners in New York are sent to solitary not by a judge, as part of their sentences, but by prison officials, most often for violating prison rules. Five out of six of these violations are non-violent, rather than conduct posing a threat to others. In effect, solitary is the go-to method of prison discipline in our state. 

Compare this with the entire United Kingdom, which has more than three times the population of New York State and a tough, conservative government, but only 50 people in solitary. Our routine use of solitary is racist and inhumane. We’ve got to change that. 

Sentences to isolation confinement are determined by hearings with a 95% conviction rate and almost no semblance of due process. The system is not only unjust but also counter-productive: solitary frequently damages a prisoner’s ability to form human relationships, making successful reentry after release unlikely and recidivism more likely. 

As people of faith, we recognize both a need for justice and prison safety and a balancing need for compassion and a concern for human dignity. We believe that the HALT Solitary Confinement bill achieves that balance. IINYS urges the Legislature to pass the HALT Solitary Confinement bill during the current session. 

 

New York Health Act

Interfaith Impact of New York State is an organization of congregations, clergy and lay leaders across the state working for the common good through progressive religious advocacy. We believe that quality health care is a human right. 

We strongly support the New York Health Act, which would create a universal single-payer health plan – New York Health – to provide comprehensive health coverage guaranteed to all New Yorkers. We believe this bill answers the questions about medical coverage, financing, and universal accessibility that have been obstacles in the past. It is now up to the Legislature and the Governor to make this great benefit available to all New Yorkers. 

Our common faith traditions agree on the worth and dignity of every individual, and the New York State Constitution makes it clear that people should not be treated as a commodity. Universal access to quality health care needs to be approached as a fundamental right, not a luxury. As a society, we should not market health care services as though they were something to be purchased like shoes or flower pots. None of us can choose when we need heart bypass surgery, diabetes treatment or radiation therapy. Preventive and remedial health care services, available to all, are essential to the well-being of society. 

A quality universal single-payer health plan will help all New Yorkers flourish. It will also give a major boost to business that are burdened with ever increasing premium costs. 

On behalf of our member congregations, clergy and individuals of faith across this great state, we call on our elected officials and health care providers to make universal access to health care a reality by voting for the New York Health Act. We hope that as you struggle with the moral and financial questions posed by providing access to health care coverage, you will continue to hear a call to compassion, that clear voice of truth that lies at the heart of all the world’s sacred teachings. 

If we and you have the courage to answer, then together, we can create a health care system that delivers for all the people of New York State.