Friend Introduces Legislation Aimed at Increasing Local Authority in Emergencies by Limiting Governor's Expanded Powers

May 27, 2020

Assemblyman Christopher S. Friend (R,C,I-Big Flats) and his Assembly Minority Colleagues introduced legislation which would provide checks and balances on the governor’s executive powers during emergency declarations exceeding 45 days. This would ensure the rights for judicial due process on any action affecting constitutional rights.

“State of emergency powers of the executive have been truly tested to the extreme during the COVID-19 pandemic, and while there was a need for immediate action on the part of the government, I do not believe it was the intention of any of those who crafted our constitution to allow for such extreme measures of power to be used for so long,” said Friend. “Our legislation would restore a balance in power and would give greater voice to local government in extended periods of emergency.”

State law allows for the governor to issue executive orders to suspend laws and regulations during states of emergency. A state of emergency was declared in New York by the governor in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. During that time, the governor has issued 33 executive orders that forced closures of businesses, along with public and private schools and institutions of higher learning and dictated the criteria for reopening the economy.

During this time, more than 2 million New Yorkers have lost their jobs, and many have been unable to collect unemployment benefits due to a broken system issuing these benefits. Elective surgeries, non-emergency dental care and other health care have been delayed. Domestic violence incidents increased, drug overdoses began to rise, and mental health issues have also increased.

The legislation would do the following:

  • Allow County-by-County Declarations – States of emergency would be declared county-by-county, with an explanation to justify the declaration based on facts and specific circumstances of the county;
  • Limit Duration – Emergency declarations would expire within 30 days, but may be extended by the governor by an additional 15 days. Any additional extensions would have to be authorized by the state Legislature;
  • Reinforce Local Authority – Each county executive, chair of a county board of supervisors or the NYC mayor would be given authority to request that the governor terminate any state of emergency. The governor must provide a specific reason for denying the request; and
  • Protects Due Process - Any curtailment or impairment of the following will be subject to independent judicial review:
    • Freedom of assembly;
    • Freedom of speech;
    • Freedom of worship;
    • The equal protection of the law;
    • Liberty or property; or
    • Other fundamental constitutional rights.