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State flag bill introduced

Proposed state flag

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said earlier this year that changing the state’s flag would deliver a unifying message.

The governor’s proposed change — adding “e pluribus unum” — isn’t unifying Republicans in the state Legislature who have drafted legislation to undo changes to the flag.

Republican Assemblyman Mark Walczyk, R-Watertown, has introduced legislation, A.10860, that would direct the flag design committee of the North American Vexillogical Association to design a new state flag. Companion legislation in the state Senate (S.8880) has been introduced by Sen. Pam Helming, R-Geneva.

THE FLAG’S MEANING

The state flag features New York’s coat of arms in the middle of a solid blue background — one of 15 states with a similar design that some flag experts refer to as a seal on a bed sheet.

Lady Liberty and Lady Justice hold the shield and a right-facing American bald eagle spreads its wings above on a world globe. Liberty’s sinister (left) foot kicks the crown off the King, and holds a staff topped with a Phrygian Cap, an ancient Roman symbol of liberty. Justice is blindfolded to show her impartiality and holds the sword of conviction in one hand and a scale in the other, symbolizing fairness. The shield displays two ships on the Hudson River for inland and foreign commerce, bordered by a grassy shore and a mountain range with the sun rising behind it. On the banner at the base of the seal has always displayed the New York state motto “Excelsior,” a Latin word meaning “Ever Upward.”

State flags and seals will be replaced only as they reach the end of their natural life or fall into disrepair, according to Rich Azzopardi, a spokesperson for Cuomo in an article in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle earlier this year.

NEW LEGISLATION

Walczyk is unhappy with the fact that the changes were done as part of a budget bill rather than being debated as a standalone bill.

“Unlike the deliberations held under Governor Clinton in the first years of our new state, he sought no input and facilitated no dialogue,” Walczyk wrote. “Instead the executive made a decision to alter a symbol that has existed for 242 years as if he had the authority of a European Monarch. Unfortunately the proposal was jammed into a budget bill and because of its nature, did not receive due debate as a stand-alone bill in either house of the Legislature. We, the people of the State of New York, reserve the right to keep our seal as is.”

Walczyk’s legislation removes the addition of “e pluribus unum” to the seal and changes the decision to put the state’s seal “on a bedsheet and call it a flag.” The second part of the bill requires the commissioner of the Office of General Services to commission the North American Vexillological Association for design of a proper flag.

“It is unrepresentative of our great state to lazily take the official seal and put it on a rectangle in order to fill the need for a flag,” Walczyk wrote in his legislative justification. “A flag isn’t a government box to check, it’s a symbol to rally around, to inspire hope, to grace the shoulders of our State Police, to fly proudly on the flag poles of government buildings and if we’ve done it well, evoke the deep pride us New Yorkers feel each time we think of the Great State of New York.”

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