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Published on November 29, 2017, by in RJV.

Daniel Squadron addressing the 2017 RJV retreat

On October 22, almost 30 people joined us for RJV’s annual retreat, this year hosted at Brooklyn Heights Synagogue. We began the day by hearing from Joy Friedman, director of organizing at the Religious Action Center, who discussed her own Jewish identity and how it informed her drive for justice, then launched a conversation about what the future of RJV might look like. The core of the day was dedicated to our breakout sessions, in which we practiced a variety of important advocacy skills and discussed issue areas that RJV has worked on in the past, with an eye towards thinking about how we hoped to be involved in the issues going forward. We finished the day by hearing from Daniel Squadron, former state senator and Executive Director of Future Now. Senator Squadron discussed how intensely focused organizing and advocacy efforts at a state and local scale can have an outsized impact in affecting policy. The retreat was a valuable experience for everyone involved. We hope you join us for next year’s retreat!

We thank the departing steering committee members for their work in pursuit of a world of justice compassion and wholeness, and are excited for the new members and their work in creating an Empire State of Tzedek!

 
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Published on October 10, 2017, by in RJV.

graphic advertising the retreat Reform Jewish Voice of New York State is excited to host our annual retreat on Sunday, 10/22 at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue. On site-check in will start at 9:00 am and the retreat will run from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm.

The retreat is an exciting opportunity to learn about issues which RJV works on, and to gain additional training on advocating for policies which reflect our values as Reform Jews. The retreat will host several exciting workshops and speakers, including Joy Friedman, the Director of Organizing at the Religious Action Center and Daniel Squadron, former Senator for New York’s 26th district.

The retreat is also when RJV makes makes decisions about our legislative priorities for the year. Your input at the retreat will shape our work and goals for the 2018 legislative season.

Please register and join us for the retreat

We are excited to see you there!

 
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Published on July 28, 2017, by in RJV.

RJV Activists

Dear Friend,

Reform Jewish Voice of New York State (RJV) is our collective voice for Jewish social justice advocacy in New York. Our mission is to promote state legislation and governmental actions that embody the principles of the Reform Jewish movement through education on the critical issues facing our state and advocacy in Albany and local legislative districts. RJV is modeled on the nationwide efforts of the Commission on Social Action and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

The work of RJV is directed by a Steering Committee of committed volunteers from across the state. We are currently seeking nominations for new Steering Committee members. You may nominate yourself or another individual with a passion for social justice work who can help RJV grow as an effective voice for Reform Judaism and advocate for social justice. If you wish to nominate another person, please discuss this with your proposed nominee and assess his/her willingness to serve on the committee before submitting his/her nomination.

The Steering Committee is composed of up to 18 members serving three-year terms. New members will begin their terms on November 1, 2017.

Nominees must be either members in good standing of a URJ-affiliated congregation or a Jewish professional serving a Reform Movement affiliate. We seek people who have demonstrated a commitment to Reform Jewish values and have participated in social action and social justice activities, including advocacy, through Reform Jewish or other organizations.

Steering Committee members are expected to participate in monthly conference calls and scheduled RJV events, help with major projects and work to promote the organization. RJV’s annual events include a Steering Committee retreat in the fall and Advocacy Day in Albany in the spring. Steering Committee members are also expected to assist in fundraising efforts and contribute financially to RJV.

If you wish to nominate yourself or another individual for consideration for RJV’s Steering Committee, please send a description of qualifications or a resume along with a brief statement of interest and commitment, and contact information (phone, email address and postal mailing address) to RLaskey@gmail.com by August 26, 2017. Please include “Nomination” in the subject line. If you wish additional information, please contact RJV Legislative Assistant Max antman at 202-387-2800.

Sincerely,
Richard C. Laskey and Marc Landis

Co-Chairs, Reform Jewish Voice of New York State

 
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Published on May 26, 2017, by in RJV.

DSC09566On Monday, May 8, 2017, about 40 Reform Jewish social justice advocates from around New York State gathered in Albany for RJV’s annual Albany Advocacy Day. These powerful leaders came together to articulate a vision for tzedek in the Empire State and to share that vision with their Assembly Members and Senators as well as New York State leadership. Check out photos of the event on RJV’s Facebook page. We began the day by hearing from Assemblywoman Pat Fahy from New York Assembly District 109 about the importance of faith-based advocacy as a tactic for solving some of New York’s most pressing issues. The Senior Policy Advisor and Director of Legislative Affairs for New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, Kate M. Powers, also joined us to discuss the New York Votes Act and how important it is for every New Yorker to have access to the ballot box.

In the afternoon, we with the offices of 35 of New York State’s legislators on four priority issues:

  1. Our support for measures that curb the growing influence of money in politics, including stricter financial disclosure requirements, limits on donations, public campaign financing options and closing the LLC Loophole (S496/A1926), (S4803/A2266).
  2. Our opposition to the Education Affordability Act (S04366/A5862), which would harm public education and endanger church-state separation by essentially directing funds for public schools to private, parochial schools.
  3. Our support for the New York Votes Act (A5312), which would reform New York State election law to include early voting, automatic registration, online registration, and same day registration.
  4. Our support for the Reproductive Rights Health Act (S2796) and the Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act (S3668), which would ensure a woman’s right and access to abortion and contraceptive care in the state of New York.

Our message was heard loud and clear in Albany, and it is important that legislators continue to hear our voices as the session draws to a close. If you were not able to attend Advocacy Day, take action today by contacting your Assembly Member and your Senator to lift your voice on all of our priority issues.

Finally, mark your calendars for next year’s advocacy opportunities: NFTY NAR Albany Advocacy Day will take place from March 11-12, 2018 and the date for RJVNYS Albany Advocacy Day will be announced shortly. We look forward to seeing you all there!

 
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Published on May 16, 2017, by in RJV.

Background:

The right to vote is the cornerstone of American democracy and our most basic civil right. As Reform Jews and as New Yorkers, we care about a variety of political issues. All of these issues are inextricably linked to the right to vote—by means of the vote, we select our elected officials, who in turn make public policy decisions that impact all Americans. The right to vote is meaningless unless the mechanisms devised to implement that right function effectively.

Elections lose their legitimacy when all eligible Americans do not have the same opportunity to vote. Over the course of our history, the right to vote has gradually expanded to include more of our citizens (such as women, people of color, etc.). In many states today, however, laws make voting more difficult or even impossible for many citizens, while court decisions have weakened the protections voters have the right to expect. Many of these new laws effectively target the poor and communities of color and are a very real form of discrimination. Protecting the right to vote is one of the most important civil rights battles of our time.

In 2016 the Reform Movement launched an initiative called Nitzavim: Standing up for Voter Protection and Participation, which engaged Reform Jews in voter registration and voter protection activities in across the country. . The modern-day effort on voting rights comes in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby v. Holder, in which a crucial provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act was struck down. In the wake of the Shelby decision, many states have adopted highly restrictive laws, many of which disproportionately impact communities of color, low income communities, the elderly and students.

In the 2016 general election, New York ranked 41st in the country for voter turnout, with just over 57% of the “voting-eligible population” casting ballots. While New York State has not faced some of these restrictive laws on the books, current law does not include same day registration or early voting, both of which expand access to this core right and responsibility of citizenship and civic engagement.

Legislative Update:

New York State elections have been subject to criticism by voters and groups such as League of Women Voters, Common Cause, New York Public Interest research Group (NYPIRG), Citizens Union and more recently the Brennan center for Justice At New York University (NYU).

Proposals for Election Law Reform in New York include early voting, same day registration, automatic (opt out) voter registration, no excuse absentee ballot voting, consolidating federal, state and local primaries into a single day, changing the deadline for registered voters to change party affiliation, and more.

While the Governor’s initial budget did include a same day voter registration proposal, the enacted 2017-2018 budget failed to include important election law reforms such as early voting, automatic registration, online registration, and same day registration that would significantly expand voting opportunities. The NY Votes Act, introduced in February 2017 by Assemblyman Michael Cusick, would provide for comprehensive voting and election reform, including the above noted proposals.

Reform Jewish Voice of New York State supports no excuse absentee voting, in person early voting, allowing pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds, automatic voter registration, same day voter registration and ballot redesign.

Reform Jewish Values:

The Sage Hillel taught, “Al tifros min hatzibur, Do not separate yourself from the community” (Pirke Avot 2:5). It is our responsibility to play an active role in our community and choosing its leaders. Rabbi Yitzhak taught that “A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted” (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 55a). This deeply embedded ethic of political participation has guided Jews to enthusiastically participate in the American electoral process.

More than any other segment of the white population, Jews played an active role in the dramatic civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, a movement that ultimately granted citizens of color unfettered access to the franchise. Given our historical role in the civil rights struggle, allegations of voter disenfranchisement and evidence of higher numbers of disqualified votes for citizens of color compel us to speak out. It is our duty to ensure that all citizens are afforded the opportunity to vote and have their votes counted.

 
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Published on May 9, 2017, by in Advocacy Day.

Background

In 1970, New York was one of the first states to legalize abortion, three years before Roe v. Wade was decided by the United States Supreme Court.  While much has changed in over the past 40 years, New York law has lagged behind and now has more stringent rules about a woman’s right to choose than Roe v. Wade dictates.  In New York, a pregnancy can only be terminated after 24 weeks if a doctor has reason to believe that the pregnant woman’s life might be at stake. The women of New York State therefore rely on the federal Constitution to guarantee those rights, leaving them vulnerable to further erosion by the U.S. Supreme Court.

On January 30, 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a state constitutional amendment to add the jurisprudence of Roe v. Wade to the New York Constitution, permanently protecting a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion in New York. In order to successfully amend the New York Constitution, the measure would have to pass the state legislature in two consecutive years, followed by an affirmative vote by residents in a statewide referendum.

Legislative Update

In early January, 2017, the Reproductive Health Act (S2796/ A1748) was introduced by State Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Deborah Glick. This bill would codify Roe v. Wade at the state level and ensure the right to an abortion in the state of New York with or without the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision. Additionally, the RHA would repeal outdated criminal statutes prohibiting abortion, and ensure that New York State law treats abortion as health care, not a criminal act. A1748 passed the assembly with 97-49 votes on January 17, 2017, but S2796 has yet to be heard in the Senate.

In early January, 2017, the Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act (S3668/A1378) was introduced by State Senator John Bonacic and Assembly Member Kevin Cahill. This act would ensure insurance coverage for all forms of contraception without co-payments, provide easier access to emergency contraception, permit 12month dispensing of contraceptives and cover male contraception. A1378 passed the assembly with 103-43 votes on January 17th, 2017, but S3668 has yet to be heard in the Senate.

Reform Jewish Values

The Reform Jewish Movement has long advocated for women to be treated fairly and equally in all aspects of life—including reproductive health decisions and pay equality.

All life is sacred in Judaism. Although an unborn fetus is precious and to be protected, Judaism views the life and well-being of the mother as paramount, placing a higher value on existing life than on potential life. Women are commanded to care for their own health and well-being above all else. The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) and the Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) have adopted numerous resolutions stating their commitment to the protection and preservation of women’s reproductive rights.

The URJ has continuously reaffirmed its commitment to reproductive health with resolutions in 1967, 1975, 1981, and 1990, stating in 1975 that “in any decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, the individual family or woman must weigh the tradition as she struggles to formulate her own religious and moral criteria to reach her own personal decision….We oppose all constitutional amendments that would abridge or circumscribe this right.”

 
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Published on May 9, 2017, by in Advocacy Day.

Background:

Jewish tradition has long recognized not only the importance of government, but also the positive role that governments can play in establishing a society of tzedek v’shalom, justice and peace. The growing influence of money in politics, though, makes achieving this goal more difficult, as it fosters a society where a person’s wealth can determine their political power. There is clear need for further reforms to campaign financing to ensure that citizens do not have their voices drowned out in determining who represents them.

Campaign finance reform is an issue across the United States. Altogether, in the 2016 election, $6.92 billion was spent, with $2.65 billion of the total attributed to the presidential race. This is a conservative estimate that includes only spending disclosed to the Federal Election Commission. The bottom line: money plays a major role in our electoral system.

New York State is not immune from the growing challenges posed by our campaign finance system. In 2016, state-level candidates in New York raised a total of nearly 65 million dollars. According to the League of Women Voters, one-third of all campaign contributions in 2011 came from only 127 major donors. These staggering numbers illustrate how heavy spending and the outsized influence of major donors can dilute the voices of average citizens.

Campaign finance reforms that will reduce opportunities for corruption and aim to give all citizens a voice in our political discourse include stricter financial disclosure requirements, donation limits and public campaign financing options. Disclosure requirements show which individuals are giving to candidates, and help regulators monitor compliance with the election law. Donation caps ensure that wealthy donors cannot give significantly more than average citizens. Public financing would limit the need for outside expenditures and the pressure candidates feel to raise campaign funds. While these proposals would not completely address the challenge of money in politics, they would each make a significant impact.

The LLC Loophole and Party Housekeeping Accounts:

One of the campaign finance law issues that was discussed during the Silver and Skelos trials was the LLC loophole. The loophole exists because Limited Liability Corporations do not necessarily function as standard corporations for tax purposes. In the 1990s, as LLCs proliferated across the country, both the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) and the New York State Board of Elections treated them like partnerships or individuals, with much less stringent requirements than corporations. Though the FEC has since updated its regulations, choosing to oversee LLCs that file with the IRS as corporations according to the same regulations as standard corporations, New York has yet to do so. This means that LLCs can give as much as $60,800 to a state candidate, whereas corporations can only give up to $5,000. Also, LLCs do not have to disclose their owners when they donate to campaigns. As a result, donors have set up many LLCs to evade both donation limits and disclosure requirements. As long as the LLC loophole remains open, donors with the means to do so can set up multiple LLCs to give much more than they could individually, and mask their identity while doing so. This opens the door to outsized electoral influence and corruption for a select few.

Legislative Update:

The New York Board of Elections is split 2-2 over closing the loophole, which means that the regulatory process on this issue is deadlocked. In his 2017-2018 Executive Budget, Governor Cuomo called upon the legislature to close the LLC loophole, implement campaign finance reform and public financing of campaigns, require financial disclosure by local elected officials, and require legislators to get an advisory opinion for outside income. The LLC Loophole was not included in the final enacted budget.

The Assembly and Senate passed a joint resolution in January 2017 requiring any member of the Legislature earning more than $5,000 income through outside employment to submit a written request for an advisory opinion to the Legislative Ethics Commission to ensure the employment is consistent with the NYS Public Officers Law.

Reform Jewish Values:

Deuteronomy 16:19 says, “You shall not judge unfairly: you shall know no partiality; you shall not take gifts, for gifts blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the pleas of the just.” The Talmud Tractate Kethuboth further notes, “What is the reason [for the prohibition against taking] a gift? Because as soon as a man receives a gift from another he becomes so well disposed towards him that he becomes like his own person, and no man sees himself in the wrong.”

Jewish tradition also stresses the need for public accountability in a system of governance. Rabbi Yitzhak taught, “A ruler is not to be appointed until the community is first consulted” (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 55a). Rabbi Yitzhak argued that in the Torah, Bezalel could be chosen to build the Tabernacle only with the community’s approval.  In a modern democracy, it is still necessary for elected officials to be accountable to all their constituents, and part of demonstrating accountability is full disclosure of those individuals, corporations and groups that a candidate or public official depends upon for financial support.

The Reform Movement has long called for campaign finance reform and other efforts to reduce the influence of money in politics. On the federal level, we were instrumental in leading religious support for the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002.  The Movement has also supported “clean money” election initiatives on the state and national levels, and affirmed its support for BCRA. RJV has also been an active supporter of ethics and campaign finance reform, advocating for public financing in the past and submitting comments to the Moreland Commission on public corruption.

During this legislative session, State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assembly Member Brian P. Kavanagh introduced two pieces of legislation to address the growing concerns around campaign finance reform. S496/A1926 would close the LLC loophole by amending New York State election law to prevent limited liability companies from contributing more than $5,000 to campaigns each year. In addition, S4803/A2266 would reduce the amount contributors can donate to all campaigns for public office, making it harder for individuals to “buy” their way into an elected position.

 

 
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Published on May 9, 2017, by in Advocacy Day.

Background

For several years the Governor, legislators and private and parochial school proponents have advocated for an Education Tax Credit (ETC) for taxpayers, including corporations, who donate to scholarship funds for private or religious schools. The Education Tax Credit would direct public funding to private and parochial schools, posing a threat to the separation of church and state and potentially drawing money away from the public-school system.

Education Tax Credit

Tax credits that direct funding to private, religious schools undermine the separation of church and state and constitute poor public policy. The Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis have long opposed attempts to channel public funds to private, parochial schools.

Open and non-discriminatory in their acceptance of students, public schools are a significant unifying factor among the diverse range of ethnic and religious communities in our society. Private, including religious, schools that will benefit from taxpayer funds under policies such as this proposed tax credit are not bound by those same acceptance standards that are a source of strength in our public school system and society.

When state funds are used to reward donors of religious school education, they become an indirect government funding of sectarian institutions. Such actions undermine the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and violate the New York State Constitution, Article XI Section 3 which states: “neither the state or any subdivision thereof, shall use its property or credit or any public money or authorize or permit either to be used directly or indirectly, in aid or maintenance, other than for examination or inspection of any school or institution of learning wholly or in part under the control or direction of any religious denomination, or in which any denominational tenet or doctrine is taught,…”

Not only do these tax credits imperil the separation of church and state, but they also disproportionately benefit wealthy donors. The tax credit would be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis for a short time, giving an advantage to individuals and corporations who have the means to hire tax professionals to help them quickly navigate the process for obtaining the credit. Moreover, the tax credit circumvents limits on charitable deductions and the benefits high-income households can receive for charitable donations that currently exist under state law.

This legislative session, the Senate and Assembly each introduced the 2017 Education Affordability Act (S04366/A5862). This bill would give a 75% tax credit on donations, but only to those taxpayers whose income exceeds $300,000.  For taxpayers whose income falls below that figure, the tax credit is equivalent to 90% of the amount donated (which is capped at $875,000 per taxpayer).

The versions of this proposal in the Senate and Assembly differ in manner by which the tax credits are administered. Any tax credit that functions such that the state helps facilitate the cost of religious education undermines the core principle of church-state separation in the United States Constitution, and directly violates the New York State Constitution.

Reform Jewish Values

Study and education is of crucial importance to the Jewish people. Judaism teaches that “By three things the world exists: On the Torah (study), on worship and on acts of loving kindness,” Pirke Avot 1:2. As Reform Jews and as Americans, we believe that the strength of our Nation’s society lies in our diversity – people from different backgrounds, religions, cultures and ethnicities forming a community of shared values, ethical principles, sensitivity to the rights of others – especially the minorities and the marginalized, mutual trust, an appreciation of our differences and acceptance of mutual responsibility for each other’s welfare.  These tenets are best learned in our public schools and then reinforced in our workplaces and neighborhoods.

General Support for Education

Study and education is of crucial importance to the Jewish people. Judaism teaches that “By three things the world exists: On the Torah (study), on worship and on acts of loving kindness,” Pirke Avot 1:2.

The URJ has continually recognized the importance of public education to American Jews and to all people generally. “Historically, the public schools have been the ladder that American Jews, and so many others, used to climb from poverty to affluence in American life. Today, Jews remain deeply devoted to the public school system; for many North American Jews, public education is the most hallowed of civic virtues.” Public Education, 2001.

Public Funding for Private Education

The Union for Reform Judaism opposes all attempts to channel public funds to private and parochial schools. In a 1961 resolution, the Union stated that “The devotion of our Union to the separation of religion and state, and our equally deep commitment to public education as a cornerstone of the American democratic process, impel us at this 46th Biennial assembly to reaffirm our opposition to any form of governmental aid to elementary and secondary schools under the supervision or control of any religious denomination or sect — Catholic, Protestant or Jewish.”

In 1972 the Reform Movement passed a resolution opposing “using public funds for nonpublic elementary and secondary schools, believing that such aid would infringe the separation of church and state and have damaging impact on public schools.”

 

 
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Published on April 14, 2017, by in RJV.

On April 10, 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed “Raise the Age” legislation into law, bringing New York in line with the rest of the nation in how juvenile offenders are treated by state judicial systems.  (North Carolina is now the only state that treats 16- and 17-year-old defendants as adults.)  The legislative battle over “Raise the Age” was a primary cause for the delay in adopting the state budget, reflecting the intensity which both advocates and legislators brought to the effort.

Under the new law, 16- and 17-year-old misdemeanor defendants will have their cases heard in Family Court, while non-violent (and certain violent) felony cases will go initially to a special Criminal Court “youth part,” and then be sent to Family Court after 30 days unless a prosecutor proves “extraordinary circumstances.”  Over the next two and one-half years, youth offenders will no longer be held in adult prisons.  The legislation is imperfect and complex, as is often the case when dealing with hard-fought issues, but is certainly a vast improvement over current conditions.

We at Reform Jewish Voice of New York State congratulate our many allies with whom we have worked to reach this point.  This success comes after years of hard work — establishing relationships with our elected officials, building coalitions with other faith communities and advocates, and mobilizing thousands of people to take a stand.

Please join us for our Albany Advocacy Day on Monday, May 8, 2017, when we will have the opportunity to thank our legislators for their support of “Raise the Age” and advocate for our other priorities –  reproductive rights, public education and voting rights and electoral reform.  To sign up, click HERE.

 
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Published on March 23, 2017, by in RJV.

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Join RJV leaders and Jewish social justice advocates from across the Empire State for a face-to-face opportunity with your state elected officials. Meet us in Albany to speak truth to power about issues that matter and about cherished values that define us both as individuals and as a people.

We will be lobbying on the following issues: Reproductive rights, public education and voting rights and electoral reform.

May 8, 2017 in Albany, NY

Click Here to Register!