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Gov. Andrew Cuomo spoke Wednesday about his executive powers during a coronavirus update from the Red Room at the State Capitol. (Photo by Don Pollsrd/Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo)
Gov. Andrew Cuomo spoke Wednesday about his executive powers during a coronavirus update from the Red Room at the State Capitol. (Photo by Don Pollsrd/Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo)

NYS Legislature passes legislation addressing governor's emergency powers; GOP calls action a 'sham'

Sat, Mar 6th 2021 11:05 am

The New York State Senate Democratic majority on Friday advanced legislation repealing the temporary emergency powers the New York Legislature granted to Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

A press release stated, “The legislation revokes the governor’s authority to issue new directives while allowing those that are now enforced and that pertain to preserving public health to continue under significantly greater legislative oversight. This system restores the preexisting balance of power, ensures genuine checks and balances even during a state of emergency, and mandates a better flow of information between the governor, the Legislature, and the state’s localities for the remainder of the pandemic.” 

Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, “I think everyone understands where we were back in March and where we are now. We certainly see the need for a quick response, but also want to move toward a system of increased oversight and review. The public deserves to have checks and balances. This legislation creates a system with increased input while at the same time ensuring New Yorkers continue to be protected.” 

The Senate majority said this legislation, S.5357, will establish new checks by the Legislature on the authority of the governor during the pandemic by:

√ Revoking the governor’s authority to issue any new directives. 

√ Authorizing the governor to extend or modify directives that are currently in effect to respond to the ongoing pandemic, but requires five days’ notice to the Legislature or to local elected officials before that extension or modification goes into effect. 

√ Requiring the governor to respond publicly to any comments they received from the Legislature or from local leaders if a directive is extended.

√ Requiring the governor to create a searchable database of all executive actions that remain in force to inform lawmakers and the public with the current state of the law.

√ Allowing the Legislature to terminate a state disaster emergency by concurrent resolution.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie stated, “A year ago, as New York was being ravaged by COVID-19, we passed legislation to give the governor temporary emergency powers that would allow the state to nimbly react to a constantly evolving, deadly situation. These temporary emergency powers were always meant to be that – temporary.

“Now, New Yorkers are getting vaccinated and we are beginning to look toward a return to normalcy. And with that, our government must return to regular order. By immediately repealing the temporary emergency powers, allowing no new directives to be issued and bringing transparency and oversight to the standing directives, we can establish better communication and collaboration with our local communities and help preserve the health and wellbeing of New Yorkers as we see the light at the end of the tunnel of this devastating and deadly healthcare crisis.”

New York state Republicans called the repeal a “sham” and a “bogus backroom deal.”

State Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt and every member of the Senate Republican conference voted in unison against the bill. Ortt’s team said the measure “further emboldens the governor’s stranglehold on total power by allowing him to extend and modify the mandates he has issued since first acquiring the powers in March 2020.”

He said, “The governor is under multiple criminal investigations by the state attorney general and U.S. Department of Justice. There is a dark cloud hanging over Albany and the entire state government because of his conduct. So how do Democrats react? By further enabling his clear and multiple abuses of power, as they have for the better part of a year. Make no mistake: In passing this useless bill, Democrats are not only continuing to abdicate their constitutional oaths as duly elected legislators, they are complicit with Cuomo in any crimes he and his administration may have committed while in office.”

Ortt’s team further stated, “The Governor has since abused the public trust repeatedly, whether it was his deadly March 25 directive to send more than 9,000 COVID-positive patients into New York nursing homes, the confirmed coverup of 15,000 nursing home deaths, or the growing allegations of bullying and sexual harassment that have been made against him and members of his administration in the past few weeks.”

Since last May, the Senate Republican Conference has advanced an amendment to fully repeal the governor’s emergency powers 22 times, including on the floor Friday.

Ortt’s team said, “Every single member of the Senate Democrats rejected this effort all 22 times – despite multiple statements and even legislation sponsored by one of their own members (S5254A) signaling they wanted to simply revoke the powers, strikingly similar to the Senate Republicans’ bill first introduced last May (S2246).”

A press release suggested Cuomo was on board with these changes.

At a press conference Wednesday, the governor said, “On the COVID emergency powers, we worked with the Legislature. We have an agreement on a bill, where the Legislature can repeal any executive order that I issue with over 50%, both houses. The COVID emergency powers continue past April 30.

“When we first did this, we thought the pandemic would be open over April 30. This is a year ago – we said about a year. At that time, it was implausible to think it was going to go beyond the year. It's gone beyond the year and it's not going to end by April 30, so they're going to extend, the legislation extends the emergency power to the point where the federal government declares an end to the pandemic, which the federal government does, it controls funds, etc. We have more time in this situation, by and large. We'll give the Legislature notice of any changes that we're making five days prior to effect. if it is an emergency change as determined By Department of Health, then it will be a shorter period of time. … During the five days, there will be legislative consultation and on the change orders that we make during the five days. And again, whatever order I put in place, the Legislature can repeal it in 24 hours or whenever they choose – and that's always been the way.”

Republican Assemblyman Angelo Morinello vehemently opposed A.5967 as an extension of the governor’s emergency powers. His team said the measure “fails to restore New York to representative democracy. Under the Assembly majority-proposed bill, the governor still has the power to extend or modify directives that affect daily lives, such as limits on restaurants, schools, churches, bowling alleys and movie theaters. Further, this bill repeals the original expiration date of April 30, 2021, extending the governor’s powers indefinitely until the federal government declares the pandemic over.”

Morinello said, “For months, we have proposed legislation to fully repeal the governor’s unilateral powers. Any prior proposals were rejected, and instead we were given a bill the governor said was a three-way agreement, he being one party. This bill is a Trojan horse under the facade of stripping the governor’s powers.

“A full repeal of the governor’s powers is neither partisan nor political. It simply returns the Legislature to a co-equal branch of government and restores the institution to the democratic system of checks and balances it was always designed to be. It allows us, as public officers, to do the job we were elected to do.”

Morinello’s team said, “The only new requirement for the governor is he must notify selected Assembly majority legislators about upcoming extensions or modifications to existing directives. In the past year, nearly 100 executive orders have been issued and, while the governor will not be able to issue any new directives, he has the ability to modify and extend any existing directives. After 12 months, Assembly majority members have yet to revoke or change a single directive. After passing this bill, the same restrictions currently on restaurants, businesses and everyday routines will still be in place tomorrow.

Republican Assemblyman Mike Norris said, “Giving Gov. Cuomo a contract extension of his extraordinary powers today by the downstate-driven majorities is completely unacceptable. I voted against it. A full repeal of these powers must be enacted immediately. Though shot down by the majority, I voted for the full repeal measure when this amendment was presented today.

“To all those small business owners and employees struggling to survive, to all the families who are grieving and demanding answers after losing their loved ones in nursing homes and to the parents concerned that their kids continue to be taught remotely or restricted from playing sports or participating in music programs, this legislation changes nothing. This governor will maintain complete control over every aspect of our lives and continue his one-person unfettered rule and micromanagement with no firm expiration date.”

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