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NY Legislature Set To Revoke Cuomo's Pandemic Powers

New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie
Karen DeWitt
New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie

The New York State Senate and Assembly plan on Friday to strip Governor Andrew Cuomo of sweeping emergency powers enacted under the COVID-19 pandemic. The action comes as the Democrat is embroiled in two scandals, over his nursing home policies during the coronavirus and allegations that he sexually harassed former staffers. But there are questions about how effective the new law will be.Democrats who lead the Senate and Assembly say that under the bill many of the current rules and restrictions enacted by Cuomo, like requiring the wearing of masks and vaccine procedures, will remain in place for now. But they will need to be reviewed by the legislature every 30 days going forward. All new directives must first be reviewed and approved by the legislature. They also have to be posted on a website listing the health and safety data used to justify the decision.  

The proposal puts constraints on the governor, who for the past year has made unilateral decisions about whether business or schools could be open or shut, even how many people could gather in a private home, all aimed at controlling the spread of the coronavirus.

Cuomo, speaking at a briefing after a week of silence, says he agrees to the terms of the measure.

“We’ve worked with the legislature,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “We have an agreement on a bill.”

Cuomo also offered a slightly different interpretation of the bill, saying that he will keep some of his emergency powers, even after they were originally set to expire on April 30. He says the authority will continue until the federal government determines the pandemic emergency has ended. But he says he will cooperate with lawmakers going forward.

“We’ll give the legislature notice of any changes that we are making five days prior to effect,” Cuomo said. 

The governor’s remarks drew a rebuttal from Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who said in a statement that the legislature “did not negotiate this bill with the governor.”

Republicans say the measure does not go far enough. They have long advocated for the revocation of the emergency powers. GOP Chair Nick Langworthy says the governor’s emergency powers are still linked to the federal declaration of emergency, which could go on for far into the future.

“I’d rather have an expiration date on all of this nonsense,” Langworthy said. “And go back to living in a democracy, rather than a dictatorship. That’s the problem. You have this hanging over everybody’s head. Everything came to a close and had a natural sunset on April 30. Now it’s whenever the federal government decides this all is over. I think we’re a long, long way from this all being over.”

Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt criticized democrats for not voting for an amendment offered by Republicans each week in 2021 that would be a straight repeal of the governor’s pandemic emergency powers.  

“There are restaurant owners right now who are going to call their senators, and say ‘what does this mean for me?’ and the answer is nothing,” said Ortt, making a reference to the Seinfeld comedy show of the 1990’s, where creators Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David billed the concept as a show about “nothing.”

“This is a bill about nothing,” Ortt said.  

Speaker Heastie says the Republicans have it wrong. He says the measure “immediately repeals the Governor’s expanded emergency powers and he cannot issue any new directives going forward.”

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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