By Bill Mahoney
04/24/2017 05:53 PM EDT
ALBANY — The Assembly passed an Earth Day package of legislation on Monday, including a state constitutional amendment that would give New Yorkers the “right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.”
The legislation, which supporters dubbed an “environmental bill of rights,” passed by a 103-27 margin.
“Part of the fundamental rights of being a citizen of this great state … is having a healthful environment,” said sponsor Steve Englebright, a Democrat from Long Island, during floor debate. “It isn’t yet in the constitution, but it should be. Certainly, there have been recent events that have reminded us of the need for this, in places like Hoosick Falls, Newburgh and Long Island.”
Most complaints, which came exclusively from Republicans, argued that the amendment was too broadly written and its scope would only be realized through litigation.
“The problem is this constitutional amendment has words that are completely undefined, words like ‘clean’ air and water,” said Assemblyman Andy Goodell, a Republican from Western New York. “What’s ‘clean’ mean? Does it mean pure? No contaminants? … What happens when we pass a constitutional amendment with very, very broad terms like ‘clean’ or ‘healthy’ — what happens is we transfer legislative authority from us … to the judiciary.”
Englebright said that excessive litigation hasn’t been an issue in states like Illinois that have similar language in their constitutions.
The amendment was first introduced in March, after Environmental Advocates of New York began a push for stronger constitutional protections in the aftermath of incidents like the discovery of PFOA in Hoosick Falls’ drinking water.
“This is the kind of environmental leadership New Yorkers want to see more of,” EANY executive director Peter Iwanowicz said in a statement. “The Assembly continues to pass some of the most visionary pieces of legislation in the country — crafting, and passing legislation that prioritizes our health, our water, our communities, and our lungs above polluter profit.”
In the Senate, the bill is sponsored by Independent Democratic Conference member David Carlucci, who represents a portion of the Hudson Valley. It’s cosponsored by seven additional members, all of whom are members of the IDC or Democratic conference.
In order to take effect, the amendment would need to pass both houses by the end of 2018, again in 2019, then be approved by voters in a referendum.
In addition to the Earth Day package, the Assembly also passed a bill that would make it easier for parents to regain custody of their children after being detained in a place like the immigration enforcement center. Here’s a full list of what passed:
A339: Kim (MS) — Enacts the New York State Reuniting Families Act
A1773 : Fahy (MS) — Relates to financial liability for major facilities, vessels, and railroads
A1862: Peoples-Stokes — Identifies the criteria the commissioner of environmental conservation should consider in publishing a list of high local environmental impact zones
A2875: Kavanagh (MS) — Relates to the reduction of mercury in mercury-added lamps
A6279: Englebright — Relates to the right to clean air and water and a healthful environment