Gov Cuomo’s Emergency Coronavirus Powers Under Scrutiny by Watchdog Groups

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Photo Credit: AP
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Edited by: JV Staff

It appears that the emergency coronavirus powers that were granted to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo are now being severely scrutinized by good-government watchdog groups. The groups are of the belief  that these special powers have given the governor the ability to rewrite and create new laws as the Covid-19 pandemic rampaged through the state during March, April and May. 

According to a report in the NY Post, in a joint letter to Cuomo on Wednesday, such watchdog groups as Common Cause NY, the League of Women Voters, Reinvent Albany and the New York Public Interest Research Group wrote: “We write to urge you to review and place new limits on the emergency powers granted to the governor earlier this year.” The letter was also addressed to such legislators as state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Westchester), Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt (R-Lockport) and Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Syracuse). 

 “As the state cautiously begins the process of reopening and with the benefit of experience, we now believe a review and changes in the delegation of authority are necessary. The American form of representative democracy primarily hinges on the balance of power between co-equal branches of government,” they wrote, according to the Post report.

Due to the unique nature of the pandemic, in early March, the New York State legislature passed the emergency law. The new law granted Cuomo the ability to increase and expand his authority as governor to suspend any “statute, local law, ordinance, order, rule or regulation or part thereof” related to preserving public health and “necessary to aid the disaster effort,” as was reported by the Post.

As such, Cuomo now has the power to put into law such 30-day executive orders as the lockdown on all statewide non-essential businesses. He also used the emergency powers to shorten of the 2020 school year and this power expires in April 2021.

Now that a great majority of regions in the state of New York are entering the last phases of the reopening of the state, many reformers want lawmakers in Albany once again in order to have a check on executive control.

Watchdog groups are urging the state’s elected officials in the assembly and the senate to return to Albany for the remainder of the legislative session which was terminated because of the pandemic. The legislators were lambasted for meeting only to vote on “limited” agendas via remote technology like Zoom — for things like COVID-19 emergency bills or police reform legislation, according to the Post report.

As was reported by the Post: “As the state moves out of the most severe quarantine restrictions, we believe it is time to review and revise the delegation of power. Accordingly, we urge that the powers of the Governor be limited to a specific period of time and only extended as the result of legislative approval by the Legislature. It must not be ‘automatic,’” wrote the watchdogs, as the Legislature has the power to remove Cuomo’s authority via a joint resolution.

The New York state budget of $177 billion was approved in April but legislators have the authority to either approve or deny the suggested cuts.  

 “Both Senate and Assembly Republicans placed amendments on the floor to end the Governor’s unchecked and unbridled powers, and Democrats who control both houses voted no. It is time for Democrats to stop hiding behind the Governor and to follow our lead to end his control,” Republican Rob Orrt said in a statement.

Another Republican legislator, Will Barclay who represents the Syracuse areas said, “It’s refreshing that good-government groups have finally realized Gov. Cuomo’s unilateral rule is completely opposite of how a ‘good government’ is supposed to function. Opportunities to rein in the governor’s power have been there. What is lacking is a willingness by the majorities to take that necessary — and overdue — step.”

“The Legislature passed dozens of bills since the emergency powers went into effect and the Governor signed many of them into law, but without the executive authority granted by the Legislature, we could not have successfully managed the pandemic and helped New Yorkers crush the curve of this deadly virus,” Cuomo spokesman Jason Conwall said in a statement, as was reported in the Post.

 

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