ALBANY, NY (WSKG) – The New York State Senate and Assembly plan on Friday to strip Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sweeping emergency powers enacted under the COVID-19 pandemic.
The action comes as Cuomo is embroiled in 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 said that under the bill, many of the current rules and restrictions enacted by Cuomo — such as vaccine procedures and requiring mask-wearing — will remain in place for now. But they will need to be reviewed by the Legislature every 30 days going forward.
The Legislature also must review and approve all new directives, which 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 businesses or schools could be open or shut, and 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, said he agrees to the terms of the measure.
“We’ve worked with the Legislature,” Cuomo said “We have 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 said the authority will continue until the federal government determines the pandemic emergency has ended.
But he said he will cooperate with lawmakers going forward.
“We’ll give the Legislature notice of any changes that we are making five days prior to their effect,” Cuomo said.
The governor’s remarks drew a swift rebuttal from Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who said in a statement that the Legislature “did not negotiate this bill with the governor.”
Republicans, who have long advocated for the revocation of the emergency powers, said the measure does not go far enough. GOP Chair Nick Langworthy said the governor’s emergency powers are still linked to the federal declaration of emergency, which could go on 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.”
Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt criticized Democrats for not voting for an amendment that’s been 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,” Ortt said, making a reference to the “Seinfeld” comedy television show of the 1990s, which creators Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David billed as a show about “nothing.”
“This is a bill about nothing,” Ortt said.
Heastie said the Republicans have it wrong. He said the measure “immediately repeals the governor’s expanded emergency powers and he cannot issue any new directives going forward.”