Hebron Dollars & Sense
- Created on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 19:10
On June 3, 2008, at the Capitol in Hartford, the Federalist Society sponsored a panel discussion on the question which will appear on the ballot on Nov 4, 2008 throughout Connecticut. The question will read: SHALL THERE BE A CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION TO AMEND OR REVISE THE CONSTITUTION OF THE STATE? If the question passes, FCTO and others will work to give Connecticut voters the right of Statewide Initiative and Referendum.
June 3rd Panelists included: Hon. Robert Satter, Connecticut Superior Court, Former State Representative; Susan Kniep, President, Federation of Connecticut Taxpayer Organizations, Former Mayor of East Hartford; and Atty. John Woodcock III, Adjunct Professor, Political Science Central Connecticut State Univ., Former State Representative, Former Member, State Ethics Commission.
The following is Susan Kniep’s presentation. The program in its entirety can be viewed by clicking on the following web link... The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies Debate on the Right of Initiative and Referendum.
On Nov 4, 2008, Connecticut voters have a unique opportunity to change the course of history in the State of Connecticut by voting yes on the question: SHALL THERE BE A CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION TO AMEND OR REVISE THE CONSTITUTION OF THE STATE? It is to the advantage of both conservative and liberal groups and individuals to lobby for the passage of this referendum question. Upon its passage, we encourage others to join a campaign to enable the citizens of Connecticut to assume greater control of their government by lobbying for Statewide Initiative and Referendum. Incorporation of this right within Connecticut’s Constitution will give all Connecticut citizens greater control of their state government. In addition, Statewide Initiative and Referendum will promote civic engagement, and, in turn, rejuvenate the passion in Connecticut voters of renewed hope for a government of, for and by the people of our State.
There are many citizens in our State who are unaware that the question regarding a State Constitutional Convention will be on the ballot in November of this year. There are others who are not sure what Initiative and Referendum really means. Hopefully this forum today will provide some insight into these two issues.
The Constitutional Convention issue I will address later. As it pertains to Initiative, many voters in Connecticut have this right at the local level. Some local charters allow local voters to obtain signatures on a petition to place their annual budget on the ballot if they are concerned for property tax increases or want more money added to the local budget.
The Statewide Initiative and Referendum process is similar to that on a local level. Citizens would develop an issue, get signatures on a petition and put the issue before voters at a referendum statewide.
The State Initiative process involves proposing or amending state law, called Statutes or Statutory Law, and/or amending a State Constitiution.
The State Referendum process allows for repeal of state laws.
Today, twenty-seven (27) States have some type of
Initiative and Referendum
Six (6) States have a statutory Initiative & Referendum process. What this means is that Citizens can attempt to pass State laws they write or suspend a law passed by the State Legislature. Citizens of these states, however, cannot pass a constitutional amendment by Initiative. These states include: Alaska, Idaho, Maine, Utah, Washington, Wyoming.
Fifteen (15) States have full Initiative & Referendum rights. The citizens can pass laws they write or suspend a statute passed by the Legislature. They can also initiate constitutional amendments by Initiative. These States include: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, and South Dakota.
Two (2) states, Florida and Mississippi, allow their citizens to place constitutional amendments on the ballot for a decision by the voters, but they do not afford them the right to pass or suspend state laws approved by the legislature.
Illinois has Initiative rights for citizens to place constitutional amendments on the ballot for a decision by the voters. The process is so complex however that only one initiative has qualified for the ballot in the last 30 years. Citizens lack a process where they can pass statutes or suspend a statute passed by the Legislature. There is a very difficult process for advisory statewide measures.
Three (3) states, Kentucky, Maryland, and New Mexico, allow their citizens referendum rights, whereby citizens can suspend a statute passed by the Legislature but voters do not have Initiative rights.
In 2006, the Federation of CT Taxpayer Organizations believed, as did others, that Connecticut’s Constitutional Convention should have been held in that year. Due to the New London Eminent Domain issue it was our hope that the Constitutional Convention question would appear on the ballot in 2006, would pass, and that Statewide Initiative and Referendum would become a reality. Our goal was to ultimately have the issue of Eminent Domain placed before the voters of our State through the Initiative and Referendum process with the belief that the majority of homeowners and businesses would support a law which would prevent cities and towns from having the authority to take their property and give it to private developers regardless of price.
Today, in California, voters are going to the polls to vote on the Eminent Domain issue of which there are two competing referendums: Proposition 98, as sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and Proposition 99, as sponsored by the League of California Cities.
The Institute for Justice which was instrumental in bringing the Eminent Domain issue to light as it affected the property of Susette Kelo in New London and 90 other New London families speaks out on Eminent Domain in California. The Institute also litigated the New London case before the Supreme Court in an effort to protect the property rights of all Americans. http://www.ij.org/private_property/castle/3_10_08pr.html
As we debate the issue in 2008 of whether a Constitutional Convention would be right for Connecticut, we need to reflect on the limitations which taxpayers and voters now have to effectuate change in our State government.
In the absence of Statewide Initiative and Referendum, our only recourse rests in our ability to garner the interests of our State representatives.
Yet, there has been a disconnect throughout our country between politicians and the public they represent. The breeding ground of the disenfranchised public has been cultivated with seeds of distrust and perceived indifference by those elected to serve us. Many believe that the drive for personal power by politicians trumps public service, as elections and issues are influenced by special interests.
But we are fortunate in Connecticut to have some State legislators working for change on behalf of Connecticut citizens. Democrat State Rep Christopher Caruso has been tirelessly working for ethics reform both at the local and state levels. Republican State Rep Art O’Neill has been working to control local property taxes through a cap on local spending. These are only two of the State legislators working for reforms at the State level. But regrettably, again, we witnessed a lackluster legislative session this year where issues of importance to voters and taxpayers were left on the table.
So again how does the public influence government and effectuate change? Some would say at the polls when candidates run for state election. However, some seats in Connecticut’s General Assembly are simply gifts from the opposing parties which fail to offer viable candidates in opposition. This year, 59 seats will go unchallenged.
Voter participation is also on the decline. On a national level the U.S. is 20th out of 21 in voter turnout among established democracies -- only Switzerland has a lower voter turnout than turnout in U.S. presidential elections. And on the home front, towns and states are lucky if they raise the interest of 40% or 50% of registered voters who are willing to go to the polls to vote.
Of course, this year may be different. The economy, the war, the subprime debacle, escalating gasoline and oil prices along with rising property taxes are either driving families from their homes through foreclosure or bankruptcy or at minimum affecting their quality of life. Families are forced to choose between the necessities of food, heat, or gasoline to get them to their jobs. That is, of course, unless they are already in the unemployment line, with over 2,700 businesses closing in Connecticut in the first three months of this year.
Whether you are a Republican, Democrat, Independent, or are so fed up with the system, you are none of the above, you are undoubtedly tuned in to the Democrat Presidential primary which has become a teacher’s tool in educating students in how candidates’ names for President ultimately find their way onto the November ballot. Delegates and super delegates overshadow the importance of the one-man, one-vote concept which many believe should be the rule.
What is evident as we follow the primary is the public’s desperate desire for change as many believe money, power and influence prevail over the interests of the average American family. Americans today want greater control over their government and their public officials, and some are working hard to assume that control, as 27 states now have Statewide Initiative and Referendum.
The common thread of those who have championed this cause, and who today continue the crusade for Statewide Initiative and Referendum, have been the following:
* To Reverse the concentration of government power,
* To neutralize the power of special interests,
* To increase public understanding of issues,
* To stimulate public involvement in the political process and improve voter turnout,
* To make government more responsive.
And now Connecticut citizens have an opportunity, for the aforementioned reasons, to incorporate Statewide Initiative and Referendum in our Constitution through the Constitutional Convention process.
The following provides a brief history of that process in our State.
The State legislature called the first constitutional convention in 1818. That convention was closed to the public, resulted in the Constitution of 1818 replacing the Fundamental Orders of 1639, and provided for a new form of governance. The process for calling for a convention, however, was not established until the constitutional convention of 1965 which gives the public the right to vote on this important issue every 20 years. If we fail this year, we will not have another opportunity to vote for a Constitutional Convention until the year 2028.
If a majority of voters voting on the question approves the measure, the General Assembly follows the constitutional process for convening the convention (Conn. Const. Art. 13, § 2). The General Assembly is responsible for choosing the membership and dates for a convention. Proposed amendments or revisions must be submitted to the electors within two months of the convention's final adjournment.
Although, to date, the public cannot initiate State Statutes or amendments to our State Constitution, the Connecticut’s State Legislature can. Since, the adoption of the state’s current constitution in 1965, the State legislature has amended the constitution 30 times. A Constitutional amendment by the state legislature is a two-step process: the legislature must first pass a joint resolution proposing a constitutional amendment by a ¾ majority in each chamber and then submit that resolution to Connecticut voters in the next election. http://www.cslib.org/constitutionalAmends/
As we continue to debate the issue of a Constitutional Convention for Connecticut, some will argue that the basis of our government is a republic and not a democracy. Opponents suggest that once we elect an individual to public office that the general public should not be involved in setting public policy as through an initiative process.
I invite you to visit the Federation’s website at ctact.org to view the extensive research on this issue in a paper entitled - Are Initiatives and Referenda Contrary to the Constitution’s “Republican Form of Government”? by Robert G. Natelson of the Independence Institute. Therein Mr. Natelson states the case in support of public participation through the Initiative and Referendum process.
The INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE is a nonprofit, nonpartisan Colorado think tank. It is governed by a statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS. Its public policy focuses on economic growth, education reform, local government effectiveness, and constitutional rights.
In conclusion, the Federation invites all citizens and groups to join with us to encourage voters to vote Yes for a Constitutional Convention for Connecticut and to, in turn, support Statewide Initiative and Referendum. Failure to do so, will require a lapse of another 20 years before we can again address the question: SHALL THERE BE A CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION TO AMEND OR REVISE THE CONSTITUTION OF THE STATE?
I will leave you with the words of Lee Iacocca in his recently published book titled - Where Have All the Leaders Gone? …
Hey, I'm not trying to be the voice of gloom and doom here. I'm trying to light a fire. I'm speaking out because I have hope. I believe in America. You don't get anywhere by standing on the sidelines waiting for somebody else to take action. Whether it's building a better car or building a better future for our children, we all have a role to play. That's the challenge I'm raising in this book. It's a call to action for people who, like me, believe in America. It's not too late, but it's getting pretty close. So let's get going …….
The Federation of CT Taxpayer Organizations believes that a Constitutional Convention is right for Connecticut. We believe that Initiative and Referendum are right for the citizens of our State, and today the Federation initiates the call to action.
Let’s us all get going and go to work to give Connecticut citizens a greater voice in Connecticut’s government!
The Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California is a great resource for Initiative and Referendum Issues.