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NY Voters Eye a Constitutional Convention

ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) - Citing a clause of the New York Constitution that says voters must be asked every 20 years whether they want to hold a constitutional convention, 96 voters asked a court to bar the governor and other top officials from being delegates.

The state's last constitutional convention was in 1967.

Lead plaintiff Robert Schulz seeks a judgment and order in Albany County Supreme Court declaring that a conflict of interest would exist if Gov. Andrew Cuomo, state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and "all others similarly situated" were to be involved in deliberations "at any New York State Constitutional Convention."

Schulz's pro se complaint calls "the free and sovereign citizens of New York State" the "principal" and those "who directly or indirectly wield government power over them" the "agent."

"It would be the ultimate conflict of interest for the agent to vote on issues at a constitutional convention that was called by the principal, the purpose of which is to revise and amend the rule book that is designed to restrict, prohibit and mandate the activities of the agent - that is, the rule book that is designed to govern the government," the complaint states.

The New York Constitution outlines two avenues for its own revision: through individual amendments proposed by lawmakers, which must be passed by two separately elected Legislatures (i.e., passed twice, by Legislatures elected in different years) and then approved by voters; or through a constitutional convention, which would allow wider modifications, and which voters must agree should be called. After a convention, voters must approve the proposed changes.

The constitution specifies that every 20 years, the question of whether to hold a convention must be put before New York's voters in a general election; 2017 is the next time that is to occur.

The state's current constitution, said to number 56,326 words, dates to 1894. At the last convention in 1967, the 5-month session produced a number of proposed changes, but they were not approved by voters, according to the New York State Archives and Records Administration.

Schulz's complaint says New Yorkers need to prepare now for the convention question that will be put before them in 2017 - or sooner, as some lawmakers have suggested.

"An immediate issue faces the principal: the all-important, influencing issue of who the delegates to the convention should not be must be settled before the question appears on the ballot," it states, with the word "not" underlined.

The constitution specifies how delegates are to be selected: three from each state Senate district and 15 at-large representatives elected by the public in a general election. With reapportionment, New York has 63 Senate districts, so the convention could have 204 delegates.

If Cuomo and others already close to government sit as delegates, they "would be in control of both pathways to constitutional change provided by the constitution," according to the complaint.

"The constitutional will and intent of the sovereign people of New York State ... would be violated if delegates to the state constitutional convention were, in fact, representing the sovereign people's agent, i.e., the government, including defendants and all others similarly situated."

In addition to Cuomo, Skelos and Lippman, who represent the executive, legislative and judicial branches, the complaint names these defendants: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg; Danny Donohue, president of the Civil Service Employees Association, which is referred to as a lobbying organization; John Stipo, a retired policeman from Westchester County, who is described as receiving "a taxpayer-supported pension from the State of New York and/or one of its public corporations"; and Ed Cox and Stephanie Miner, who are involved in the leadership of the state Republican and Democratic parties, respectively.

Also named as pro se plaintiffs are 95 others, who live in 39 of New York's 62 counties.

Schulz, who once worked as an engineer, has challenged the actions of state and federal governments on various issues - taxation, voting rights, public debt - for years. He is a principal of an umbrella organization known as We the People that advocates and educates on constitutional rights.

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