Bill Aims To Limit Gov.’s Disaster Powers

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Post via AP, Pool)

State Sen. George Borrello is a co-sponsor of legislation introduced recently in the state Senate to end emergency powers granted to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

S.8326/A.10449 were introduced recently in the state Legislature, shortly after Republicans in the legislature called for the end of Cuomo’s emergency powers. No Democrats have signed on as a co-sponsor of the Senate legislation, which is sponsored by Sen. Pam Helming, R-Geneva, and Assemblyman David DePietro, R-East Aurora.

The legislation wouldn’t end the governor’s ability to issue executive orders during a time of emergency, which would include epidemics or disease outbreaks. The biggest change is striking language voted on in March that expands the circumstances under which a New York governor can issue emergency orders. The March legislation, which was tied to $40 million of stateCOVID-19 aid, gave the governor the power to issue directives during the following instances: fire, flood, earthquake, hurricane, tornado, high water, landslide, mudslide, wind, storm, wave action, volcanic activity, epidemic, disease outbreak, air contamination, terrorism, cyber event, blight, drought, infestation, explosion, radiological accident, nuclear, chemical, biological, or bacteriological release, water contamination, bridge failure or bridge collapse.

The proposed language limits the use of executive orders to instances where statutes, local laws and local ordinances would hinder or delay action necessary to deal with the emergency.

In the past two months, Cuomo has issued 29 Executive Orders and changed more than 250 laws. Among his executive orders are requiring all non-essential businesses to close and workers to stay home, spending nearly $3 billion, closing schools for the rest of the academic year and announcing a “re-imagining” of the state’s education system in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The governor has also altered state regulations governing public health, hospitals, nursing homes, elections, open meetings, court proceedings, purchasing procedures and child care. It also removed from legislative purview cuts to the budget, giving power of regular reviews of spending and expenditures, and cuts if necessary, to Robert Mujica, state budget director.

During the same period, the state Legislature hasn’t met. Legislators are working on constituent matters inside their districts and proposing legislation, but no hearings or legislative session meetings have been held since the state budget was approved in April.

“No governor should have the ability to make hundreds of unilateral decisions without input from or votes in the state legislature,” Helming and DePietro write in their legislative justification. “In times of crisis, decisions must often be made quickly, but they should not be made in a way that undermines the foundation of our democracy and the system of checks and balances. State legislators are elected by their constituents to represent them, people do not solely vote for a governor. The state Legislature and Executive were created to work together for a reason. The state Senate and Assembly cannot abdicate their role in government as legislators and simply leave the difficult decisions to the governor.”


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