© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Capitol Closed To Visitors As Two NYS Assemblymembers Test Positive

The New York State capitol in Albany
Dave Lucas
The state capitol in Albany

The novel coronavirus outbreak has reached the New York state Legislature. Governor Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced Saturday night that Assembly Democrats Helene Weinstein of the 41st district and Charles Barron of the 60th district tested positive for COVID-19.

The capitol will be closed to visitors effective immediately. It comes at a time in the legislative session when lawmakers are typically working on one-house budget bills ahead of the state budget deadline of April 1.

Governor Cuomo says due to the worsening situation, he and the legislature will work to finish the state budget this week, two weeks early, so that they can get their work finished before anyone falls ill. Heastie says neither member has been in Albany since early March for separate reasons.

In a statement, Weinstein says she began to feel ill on the evening of Wednesday, March 11h, and immediately self-quarantined. She said she had already been home in her district since March 4, dealing with a personal matter. She say she is “resting comfortably and continuing to work from home.”

Just an hour earlier, Cuomo, in a conference call with reporters, said he wants to “accelerate” the budget process, and be done by March 20, because of the danger of lawmakers falling ill. The 213 legislators, as well as the governor, have extensive staff involved in budget negotiations, meaning that a session day at the capitol is already crowded with several hundred people.  

“And we’re going to have to anticipate possible absences from the legislature,” said Cuomo.

Cuomo says he thinks other items can also be still be included in the budget, like legalizing the use of adult recreational marijuana, and rolling back some of the bail reform laws that ended many forms of cash bail on January 1.

The state was facing a nearly $6 billion budget gap even before the stock market crash related to the virus occurred. A large part of the gap is due to increased spending on Medicaid, and the governor had set a panel to work on finding out ways to reduce health care spending.

Cuomo says the Medicaid gap is now complicated by the pending federal legislation to help those effected by the fallout from the corona virus. The governor says the plan  gives proportionately less money to New York and some other blue states, even though New York has the highest number of people infected with the virus. The governor says if the federal bill, passed in the House of Representatives Friday but still pending in the Senate becomes law, then New York will not be able to fill it’s gap.

“You will never get the numbers to balance,” Cuomo said.

The federal bill would give over $7 billion in Medicaid aid to the state. But it would prevent Cuomo from enacting a key budget proposal to pass some of the increased Medicaid costs over to counties and the City of New York. The federal legislation would hold the local/state Medicaid split at 80% for the state and 20% for localities. The governor wants the local government to pay a higher percentage than that. The mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, as well as county leaders across the state oppose the plan.

Earlier Saturday, de Blasio held a news conference with U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, who is Senate Minority Leader, to urge Senate leader Mitch McConnell to pass the bill.

That led Cuomo to single out Schumer, as well as Westchester County Congresswoman Nita Lowey, for criticism.

“Mr. Schumer and Ms. Nita Lowey have to figure it out. They created the problem, let them solve it,” Cuomo said. “This is not one that they can blame on the president.”

Legislative leaders did not comment on the record about passing the budget early. But a source familiar with the current thinking says there is a real push to get it all done by Friday, March 20, but admits it “won’t be easy.”

Meanwhile, the governor issued an executive order halting all petitioning for candidates to be on the ballot for the June primary as of March 17th. And he says the new requirements for the number of signatures will be just 30% of the number originally required. Cuomo received a rare  endorsement for his actions from New York Republican Party Chair Nick Langworthy, who said in a statement that “ when it comes to the safety and health of New Yorkers, we must put partisanship and politics aside during this public health crisis.”

Related Content