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After Hiccup, Legislature Expected to Approve Cuomo’s Coronavirus Request

After Hiccup, Legislature Expected to Approve Cuomo’s Coronavirus Request
by Dan Clark • Published on March 3, 2020 • 3 Comments
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx
Credit: Dan Clark
Published: 8:02 p.m.
After a slight hiccup Monday evening, Democrats in the state Legislature said they expected to approve legislation proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that will allocate an emergency $40 million to prepare New York state for a potential outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
The legislation, which was expected to be immediately signed into law by Cuomo, would also expand the powers of Cuomo and the state Department of Health to combat a possible spread of the virus.
Cuomo, under the legislation, would be allowed to issue a directive, via executive order, that would green-light any action taken by the state that’s “necessary to cope” with a state disaster emergency.
That power wouldn’t be limited to the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, or potential outbreaks of a disease in general.
According to the bill, Cuomo would be able to issue any directive in the event of a fire, flood, earthquake, hurricane, tornado, high water, landslide, mudslide, wind, storm, wave action, volcanic activity, epidemic, disease outbreak, air contamination, terrorism, cyber event, blight, drought, infestation, explosion, radiological accident, nuclear, chemical, biological, or bacteriological release, water contamination, bridge failure or bridge collapse.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, said the legislation, in the context of COVID-19, would expedite the process for Cuomo and DOH to respond to a potential outbreak.
“The reasoning that was given to us is that it allows the ability to give extra directives in case of the need of quarantines and things like that, to maybe shorten the period of trying to get the state Department of health to be able to react if something happens,” Heastie said.
Democrats in the Assembly were initially hesitant to approve the legislation earlier Monday, with some complaining behind closed doors that it would afford Cuomo more power than necessary to address the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
Heastie confirmed those concerns to reporters Monday evening, but said state law would allow the Legislature to strip Cuomo of that power if Democrats felt he misused it.
“The Legislature has the ability that if the governor takes an action we feel oversteps the bounds of where we think he should go, we can pass a concurrent resolution to undo it,” Heastie said. “So, there is a check on the broadening of powers that’s given to the governor.”
Heastie said that, after a conversation behind closed doors, a majority of Democrats who control the chamber agreed to approve the emergency appropriation and an expanded set of powers for Cuomo.
Those powers wouldn’t last forever. According to the bill, they would sunset at the end of April 2021.
Cuomo first proposed the emergency appropriation during a press conference last week in Albany, where he said he’d already spoken to leaders in the Legislature about the request. It hadn’t yet been signed off by individual members of the Legislature.
Cuomo, at the time, had also mentioned that he would be asking the Legislature to give the state Department of Health more authority. He said the legislation was intended to prevent a situation during which the agency’s hands are tied during an outbreak.
The Legislature was expected to give final approval to the legislation at some point Monday night.