It’s understandable that Republican legislators in Albany aren’t thrilled about a bill to scale back Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s ability to unilaterally issue directives during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Last year, the state Legislature gave Cuomo sweeping authority to sign executive orders mandating safety measures to deal with the health care crisis. Lawmakers retained some control on this process by allowing themselves to rescind any of his measures with simple majorities in the state Assembly and Senate.
But seeing that both chambers are dominated by Democrats, this never occurred. Cuomo was permitted to run the state government the way he wanted. He was even authorized to amend the state budget as he saw fit as time went on.
One-person rule is never a good idea, and Republicans have long advocated that Cuomo’s power be curtailed. We have on several occasions joined them in arguing that very point on this page.
But the governor has recently found himself embroiled in controversies pertaining to how his administration withheld data concerning the true number of nursing home residents who died of COVID-19 as well as accusations of sexual harassment. Democrats finally reached the tipping point last week and decided enough was enough.
The Legislature passed a bill March 5 to curb the emergency powers it granted Cuomo nearly a year before. And not wanting to anger lawmakers any further, Cuomo dutifully signed it into law Sunday.
“The measure revokes Cuomo’s authority to issue new directives. Cuomo has issued 96 executive directives since the start of the pandemic, and about 60 remain in effect,” the Watertown Daily Times reported in a story published March 5, adding that the governor may not issue any more executive orders concerning the pandemic. “The measure authorizes the governor to extend or modify directives in effect to respond to the ongoing pandemic but requires a five-day notice to the state Legislature and local elected officials before changes take effect. … Under Friday’s measure, the Legislature can vote to terminate a state disaster emergency by concurrent resolution and a simple majority vote.”
State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R- Oswegatchie, summed up the sentiments of her Republican colleagues in a news release issued March 5:
“To be clear, legislation advanced today that’s being painted as a revocation of the governor’s emergency powers does nothing to change the current dynamic in Albany. In fact, it actually makes things worse by removing the original April 30 expiration date on the governor’s unchecked authority. The executive orders from the past year — everything from how many people can be in your home to onerous regulations on businesses — are still in place and our state remains under one-person rule. I understand the need to have guidelines protecting public health during an unprecedented global health crisis. However, as the pandemic continues, the Legislature needs to be part of making the decisions that govern our daily lives. If the majority was serious about returning our state to a system of checks and balances, they wouldn’t have negotiated this backroom deal with the governor, who in recent days has been the focus of very serious, troubling allegations. Simply put, legislation advanced today was nothing but a hollow political gesture that unfortunately, continues to prevent the Legislature from doing its job.”
Ritchie is correct that not much will change under this law. But it prohibits Cuomo from issuing any new executive orders, and that’s a good start.
We agree that lawmakers must reassert their authority over vital matters in Albany, and we’d like to see more done to ensure they’ll once again take up their crucial role. This law will make some inroads toward this goal, however, which makes it a step in the right direction.
Now let’s push legislators to lace up their shoes and keep walking.