Legislators from New York’s Assembly and state Senate struck a deal Tuesday to strip Gov. Andrew Cuomo of his pandemic-linked emergency powers and return matters like lockdowns to local control.
The deal would reverse emergency powers granted to Cuomo exactly a year ago, in the early days of the COVID pandemic, that gave him free rein to order measures like quarantines.
“I think everyone understands where we were back in March and where we are now. We certainly see the need for a quick response but also want to move toward a system of increased oversight, and review. The public deserves to have checks and balances. Our proposal would create a system with increased input while at the same time ensuring New Yorkers continue to be protected,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement.
Assemblymember Carrie Woerner tweeted the outlines of the widely reported deal Tuesday afternoon, saying it would:
- “repeal the extraordinary powers granted to the Governor last year”
- “provide for an orderly transition through the end of the disaster period”
- “Limit any further modifications to directives to that which is necessary to reduce the spread or increase vaccinations”
- “Restore the right of counties and municipalities to issue executive orders without seeking state approval”
- “Require the Governor to provide online reporting on all executive orders, providing transparency for all”
Woerner said she understood a bill would be passed as early as this Friday.
While the deal leaves Cuomo with the authority to extend some existing measures, even there he will have to notify various legislative leaders and accept public comment for or against his actions. Legislators will also have the power to repeal a gubernatorial declaration of a state of emergency.
Queens State Senator John Liu said the agreement is less about retribution from the mushrooming scandals the governor is facing, and more about restoring the balance of power in Albany between the branches of government.
The changes come amid mounting calls for Cuomo to resign, as he faces three worsening scandals — accusations of sexual harassment by at least three young women, accusations of verbal abuse by legislators, and accusations of mismanagement in the handling of the pandemic in nursing homes.
His administration now faces both an independent investigation into the sexual harassment issues overseen by the state attorney general’s office, as well as a federal probe into the nursing home problems.
For the last year, executive orders have let Cuomo govern the state with little resistance, whether it was closing schools, mandating people work from home, restricting transit, or stopping (and then restarting, and stopping again, and then restarting again) indoor dining.
But as his problems deepened, so did calls for the legislature to regain a measure of control by stripping the emergency authority.
“A year into the pandemic, and as New Yorkers receive the vaccine, the temporary emergency powers have served their purpose – it is time for them to be repealed,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. “These temporary emergency powers were granted as New York was devastated by a virus we knew nothing about. Now it is time for our government to return to regular order.”