June 14, 2017

A Constitutional Convention stands to harm seniors – Op Ed

By Barry Kaufmann, Commentary Published 5:09 pm, Tuesday, June 13, 2017 Albany Times Union

It’s troubling to read polls about widespread support for the Constitutional Convention that will be on the New York ballot this November, even though most respondents admit that don’t know very much about it. What people don’t know can hurt them. This is especially true for senior citizens.
There are a lot of reasons to be opposed to the Constitutional Convention — it will potentially cost hundreds of millions of dollars that could be better spent; it’s likely to be run by the same political insiders who already game the system — or worse; and real reform can be better achieved through existing process.
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A lot of rights that people take for granted could be fair game under a wild card Constitutional Convention. In today’s unprecedented political environment, it’s not a far-fetched notion. Seniors should be wary.
Consider that the right to an absentee ballot is guaranteed under the state constitution. Seniors disproportionately use absentee ballots relative to the rest of the voting population. This puts seniors at higher risk of having their votes be marginalized in a wide-open convention where we may not be well-represented.
The state constitution provides protection against age discrimination. Since projections show that by 2020 one third of people between the 65 and 75 years of age will be in the workforce, this is a concern that should not be taken lightly.
Similarly, the constitution guarantees an eight-hour workday, minimum wage and other labor protections. Like other workers, seniors should expect that they have a right to be treated fairly in the workplace. Those protections are in the state constitution because history has demonstrated that they don’t just happen without standards in place.
Protections providing for public relief for the indigent and the aged along with oversight and protection of residents of nursing facilities, are other examples in New York’s constitution that have a direct effect on senior citizens.
Maintaining these protections should be a matter of common decency and a measure of our society. Yet, we are witnessing a moment in history when there are those in positions of power who would disregard the common good and cruelly price seniors out of the health or the long-term care market in the name of selfish economics.
New Yorkers — especially seniors — need to better understand what is at issue this November. There is no quick fix for better government. Effective democracy requires its citizens to be continually informed and active. Certainly a Constitutional Convention with so many unknown risks is a dangerous choice.

Barry A. Kaufmann is President of the New York State Alliance for Retired Americans.


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