Is it time to check Cuomo’s emergency powers?

Andrew Cuomo coronavirus briefing June 18
Andrew Cuomo coronavirus briefing June 18
Don Pollard/Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Gov. Andrew Cuomo holds a daily coronavirus briefing with Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa.

Is it time to check Cuomo’s emergency powers?

Republicans are calling again for limits to Cuomo’s emergency powers.
June 20, 2020

Back in early March, the state Legislature approved a bill expanding the governor’s emergency powers, broadening the executive’s ability to suspend or delay laws that interfere in coping with an impending disaster. Looking back, it was unclear how long New York’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic might last, or the extent to which Gov. Andrew Cuomo would make use of that authority.

In the past three months, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has issued more than 40 executive orders relating to the pandemic, including the closure of non-essential businesses across the state, and changed more even more laws. Those measures include suspending the requirement that schools be open for 180 days a year to receive state aid, and easing petitioning requirements for political candidates by requiring fewer signatures to appear on the ballot. 

Now, as State of Politics has reported, Republicans in the state Legislature are renewing their calls for checks on the governor’s emergency powers. Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay, along with over 30 other Assembly Republicans, introduced a bill in late May that would require the governor to obtain authorization by the Legislature to extend any emergency directive beyond 45 days. State Sen. George Borrello introduced a similar bill in the state Senate. The legislation would also require the governor’s emergency declarations to outline the counties affected and provide “detailed explanation and rationale” for why the directive is justified for each county. 

Of course, it’s not just now that lawmakers are raising concerns about the expansion of the governor’s powers. In March, when the Legislature approved the bill that expanded the governor’s emergency powers, which allow him to issue any directive necessary to cope with the disaster, some lawmakers raised concerns about a power grab. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a Democrat, noted that governors handling previous health emergencies were able to do so without expanded powers. Still, the bill, which was tucked into a package that secured $40 million in emergency aid, passed with broad bipartisan support.  

But even as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the state, and some praised the actions Cuomo took to close non-essential businesses or schools, Republicans in particular have said that those powers need to be kept in check. “The emergency powers provided to the governor were always intended to be temporary,” Barclay said in early May. “As we see the COVID-19 threat begin to subside and we move in the direction of reopening New York, the time has come for the state government to return to its basic principle of representative democracy.”

Today, as cases of the coronavirus and deaths from the virus continue to decline in New York – and as Cuomo steps out of the daily spotlight – Republicans are renewing that call with the legislation introduced in late May. Whether this Republican-backed legislation will win any support from Democrats in the Legislature, however, remains to be seen.

Annie McDonough
Annie McDonough
is a tech and policy reporter at City & State.
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