The state legislature has reached an agreement to strip Gov. Andrew Cuomo of emergency powers granted to him during the pandemic — but leaves the door open for him to extend Covid-related restrictions including limits on indoor dining.
Roughly a year after expanding the governor’s executive powers to oversee the state’s pandemic response, the Senate and Assembly are moving to cut off the politically weakened governor.
The chambers are expected to approve a measure that would prevent Cuomo from issuing new directives but would allow him to extend existing ones that “manage the spread or reduction of Covid-19, facilitate the vaccination process or require use of face coverings.”
“I think everyone understands where we were back in March and where we are now,” Stewart-Cousins said in a statement. “We certainly see the need for a quick response but also want to move toward a system of increased oversight, and review. The public deserves to have checks and balances.”
Early in the pandemic, the governor unilaterally shut down entire industries and then gradually laid out rules for them to reopen. For most of the past year, he limited residential and commercial evictions, issuing orders that, at times, conflicted with guidance from state courts.
His last order related to residential evictions expired in December, supplanted by a law that banned most evictions through last week. Tenants can seek further protection through May 1 if they fill out a financial hardship declaration form.
The fate of commercial evictions is less clear. The governor’s last action on the matter expired last week, and there is disagreement over whether a recent order extended the ban through March 24. In late January, the legislature passed a bill that would bar commercial evictions and foreclosures through May, but the governor has yet to sign it.
Once the legislature passes its bill to take away Cuomo’s emergency powers, the governor must notify Senate and Assembly leaders before extending existing orders and give them an opportunity to comment. In cases where orders solely affect a specific area, such as indoor dining restrictions in the city, the governor must notify the local government.
Last week, Cuomo raised the capacity for indoor dining in the city to 35 percent. Restaurants elsewhere in the state are able to operate at 50 percent capacity.
Calls to remove the governor’s emergency powers began as early as late last year, but have picked up as three women accused Cuomo of sexual harassment and an investigation found he had underreported the number of nursing home residents who died of Covid.
But the legislature has always had the power to block any of Cuomo’s Covid orders, which have drawn objections and lawsuits from restaurants, fitness centers, bowling alleys and other businesses. Not once has it done so.