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When to end governor’s emergency powers?

Lawmakers and candidates disagree

Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his daily coronavirus update Friday at Iona College in New Rochelle. (Photo provided by the governor’s office)

State Assemblyman Dan Stec is joining other Republicans in calling for an end to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s emergency powers to help manage the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of his North Country colleagues and candidates agree now is the time; others are not so sure.

Stec, a Republican from Queensbury who is running for a seat in the state Senate, issued a press release from his Senate campaign Friday urging fellow lawmakers to pass a resolution ending the governor’s ability to run state government unilaterally with regard to public health.

“The immediate emergency of the coronavirus is behind us,” Stec said. “All of New York state is in at least the second phase of reopening, and most of it is in the third. There’s simply no reason to allow the governor to continue to wield this vast amount of power. The Senate and Assembly must reconvene, end the use of his expanded powers and restore the Legislature’s constitutionally granted role as an equal partner in state government.

“We’ve seen the major problems with the governor and his staff controlling the entire decision-making process, from the tragedy that’s unfolded in our nursing homes to the inconsistencies and waffling in reopening our economy,” he continued. “The men and women in the Senate and Assembly were elected to make the important decisions that impact our respective communities’ quality of life. It’s time we step up to the plate and use that authority to get our state back on track.”

On March 2 and 3 the New York State Legislature granted the governor emergency disaster powers for nearly 14 months, through April 30, 2021. The bill passed the Assembly by a vote of 85-47; in the Senate it was 53-4. Every North Country representative voted yes, including Stec.

Since then, Cuomo has issued 43 executive orders related to the pandemic, changing numerous laws in the process.

Stec is far from the first New York Republican to call for these emergency powers to end. Assemblyman Mark Walczyk, R-Watertown, also called for it Friday — the day of Cuomo’s last daily COVID-19 press briefing, at which the governor declared that New York has “done the impossible” in taming the coronavirus. Assembly minority leader Will Barclay, R-Fulton, who also voted yes to granting the emergency powers, called in mid May for them to end and for “state government to return to its basic principle of representative democracy.”

Two Assembly Democrats, Angelo Santabarbara and Marianne Buttenschon, also introduced a bill calling for a 30-day maximum on any disaster emergency declaration unless the Legislature renewed it.

Stec’s Democratic Senate opponent in the Nov. 3 election, Clinton County Treasurer Kimberly Davis, said said Cuomo has been “correct” in using his powers to warn businesses that don’t obey social distancing and mask rules that they could be shut down.

“We are not out of the woods yet, although we are getting closer,” she wrote in an email, noting that New York has not had recent spikes in COVID=19 cases like other states have. “I believe that once we are all in Phase 4, then the Governor should not renew his Executive Order.”

Meanwhile, she criticized Stec as “ineffective.”

“Mr. Stec is trying to appear as if he is doing something about the issue, when he knows that he has no chance of getting this legislation passed,” she wrote. “That is what we would get if Mr. Stec were elected — someone who is ineffective. He has become very good at sending out a myriad of press releases, taking credit for anything that the Governor does and calling for change when the Governor doesn’t do something he wants. The bottom line is that the Governor does not have to listen to Dan Stec, ever, for or against any issue. Dan is as ineffective in the Assembly as he would be in the Senate. That’s not what we need in the North Country.”

Sen. Betty Little, a Republican from Queensbury whom Davis and Stec are running to succeed, said she could support Stec’s proposal.

“It seems we’re getting to the end, fortunately,” she said in an emailed statement. “If we don’t have any ‘flareups’ in our state following the demonstrations over the past several weeks, then I think we’ll be in fine shape to get back to normal and for the Legislature to resume its coequal role with the governor. I could see us coming back into session in July and passing this kind of resolution.”

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