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Cuomo’s COVID powers may end

Democratic legislative leaders prepare vote

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is seen Feb. 17 at the opening of a state-FEMA mass vaccination site at York College in Queens. (Provided photo — Don Pollard, governor’s office)

North Country legislators in the state Senate and Assembly have been waiting for the day they can rescind Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s emergency powers for the COVID-19 pandemic. On Friday, they may get their chance.

On Tuesday, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie created a bill to strip Cuomo of his emergency powers. The two chambers may vote on it as early as Friday.

It comes at a time when New York and other states are loosening restrictions as vaccines lessen the coronavirus’ deadly impact. It also comes when Cuomo is on the ropes amid allegations of sexual harassment, nursing home death cover-ups and bullying, but the legislative leaders made no mention of that Tuesday.

“I think everyone understands where we were back in March and where we are now,” Stewart-Cousins said in a statement. She said the “public deserves to have checks and balances.”

“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New Yorkers receive the vaccine, the temporary emergency powers have served their purpose — it is time for them to be repealed,” Heastie said in a statement. “It is time for our government to return to regular order.”

These powers are set to expire on April 30, but this bill would revoke them as soon as it is passed by both chambers.

According to Stewart-Cousins and Heastie, Cuomo’s executive orders managing the spread or reduction of COVID-19, the vaccination process and requiring masks would remain in effect for 30 days, at which point they could be extended or edited.

Cuomo would still be able to extend or edit COVID-19 rules, but he would need to tell Senate and Assembly committee chairs, the temporary Senate president and Assembly speaker why the changes are needed, explain the threat to public health and safety, and provide them an opportunity to comment.

Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, said in a Twitter thread that the bill would also “Restore the right of counties and municipalities to issue executive orders without seeking state approval” and “Require the Governor to provide online reporting on all executive orders, providing transparency for all.”

North Country reaction

North Country legislators on both sides of the aisle have for months wanted to take back the emergency pandemic powers they gave Cuomo in the early days of the pandemic, which the governor used to issue executive orders like a mask mandate and occupancy requirements for businesses.

While they have said they believe those emergency powers were needed a year ago, for months they have pushed to end them and let the Legislature regain its full lawmaking power.

“Finally,” state Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury said in a press release. He has been calling for Cuomo’s emergency powers to end since last summer.

“It’s the least that we can do and a long-overdue action for the Legislature to reestablish its coequal governing role,” he said.

Stec has introduced several amendments pushing for a vote on Cuomo’s powers, all of which have failed as the Democratic Party holds a majority in both chambers.

Assemblyman Billy Jones of Chateaugay Lake is one of the Democrats who has previously voted to revoke Cuomo’s powers.

“I have consistently been calling for ending and scaling back the governor’s extraordinary pandemic powers,” Jones wrote in a text. “We must demand transparency and a return to a co-equal form of government to allow the legislature to be a coequal partner and be a representative government for the people while ensuring safety and security for our most vulnerable populations.”

Assemblyman Matt Simpson, R-Horicon, said while he was glad the Legislature was acting on a “way overdue” action, he was unhappy the Democratic Assembly and Senate leaders made this decision without involving Republican members.

“While we were in session I saw on Twitter that there’s been an agreement between the majority leaders in the Assembly. There’s been no discussion of that whatsoever,” Simpson said in a phone call. “I don’t have any information on what is being put forward. … The minority has not been involved.”

While more Democratic legislators have joined the push to revoke Cuomo’s powers, the leaders and the majority of the party have previously voted against such measures. Simpson said they were giving Cuomo a “free pass.”

He said he is unsure what is in the bill the Assembly will vote on Friday, but he hopes it is “the right legislation.” He wants a chance to discuss it on the Assembly floor.

Simpson and Stec’s statements both cited the accusations of sexual harassment brought against Cuomo by three women. Both called the accusations “credible.”

“It is imperative that we have an independent investigation that is completely out of the reach of Gov. Cuomo in order for these women to get a fair and just trial,” Simpson wrote. “We can’t have a process that doesn’t equally protect the rights of the victims or the accused.”

Stec said the allegations and nursing home scandal show “the governor has demonstrated he is unfit to lead.” He again said Cuomo should resign.

“More and more people in and out of government are calling on him to resign,” Stec wrote. “That would be the best thing he could do for our state. We can be ‘New York Tough’ without him.”

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