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GOP lawmakers want to curtail Cuomo's emergency powers

Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers daily briefing on the

Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers daily briefing on the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic. May 28, 2020 Credit: Office of the Governor

ALBANY — Republicans are calling for curtailing the emergency powers that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has wielded to change more than 250 laws amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Republicans say the “sweeping” way the Democratic governor has used his new powers is “alarming.” Among other things, they are proposing a law to force a governor to ask the legislature every 30 days for authority to renew his emergency powers.

The GOP is solidly in the minority in the state Assembly and Senate, so the proposal has no chance of being approved — in fact, the Senate voted it down Wednesday. But it is a sign legislators, even some Democrats, are pushing back against Cuomo after he’s had about two months of total control.

“The emergency powers granted to the governor were meant to be temporary to deal with the onset of a crisis. That onset has passed into history and so should the governor’s power to unilaterally dictate policy,” Sen. Rich Funke (R-Fairport) said Thursday.

 “This current pandemic has severely disrupted normal operations and required drastic mitigation. However, ‘state of emergency’ doesn’t equate to ‘authoritarian rule,’ ” Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Pulaski) said Wednesday.

At issue are broad emergency powers the State Legislature granted Cuomo during the first week of March. The rationale centered on allowing him to act quickly as the virus spread.

“Many of those making political hay out of this now, ‎voted for those emergency powers in the first place,” Cuomo aide Rich Azzopardi said. “It was the right decision then. Without it, there was no way this pandemic could have been managed and the curve of this deadly virus bent.” 

New York law already gave the governor’s office broad emergency powers. But on March 2, at Cuomo’s urging, the legislature gave him unlimited authority to rule by executive order during any state emergency from a “storm” to “volcanic activity.”

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As the virus spread, Cuomo shut down schools and businesses, suspended most court proceedings and waived bidding requirements on state contracts and postponed village and school board elections.

Barclay proposed changing the law to limit the length of any “state of emergency” declaration to 30 days, renewable by the legislature, and allow any county executive or county legislature to request its termination on a local basis.

No Democrat has backed any of the Republican proposals, though there are signs some are chafing at the current arrangement. Senate and Assembly leaders sought to reassert legislative authority by convening this week and approving more than 30 COVID-19-related bills.

Last month, a handful of Democrats introduced a bill to amend the state’s constitution to give the legislature more say over the state budget — an initiative launched after Cuomo strong-armed them into including a slew of nonfinancial and non-virus proposals in the budget in April.

One of those lawmakers, Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx), said the virus-influenced budget exposed the “disproportionate power dynamics in Albany.”

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