Assemblyman Kevin Byrne (R,C,Ref-Mahopac) is displeased to announce legislative reforms introduced by the Assembly Minority Conference by Assemblyman Andrew Goodell (R,C,I- Chautaugua) and co-sponsored by Byrne, which would have installed greater legislative oversight of the governor during state of emergencies, were shot down by the Majority controlled state Legislature in Albany.
The legislation made changes to state law that existed before COVID-19, in addition to other modifications of changes that were approved earlier this year in Albany. The reforms would have accomplished several things, including: limited the duration of emergency declarations, only allowing disaster declarations to be further extended with the approval and authorization of the Legislature; had emergency declarations done on a county-by-county basis so local evaluations can also be made; allowed localities to request the governor terminate an emergency declaration in their respective county (a request the governor would not be required to accept); and allow for due process in regard to executive orders that could potentially infringe on individual or constitutional rights.
While I have been careful to recognize and thank the governor for some of the decisive actions he took earlier in this pandemic, it is unhealthy for our state and democracy to allow one person, unchecked, to dictate all policy making, said Byrne. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website, the COVID-19 disaster declaration is by far the longest recorded in our states history dating back to 1950. While there is an important reason why the executive rightfully possesses some emergency powers during a declared disaster, the magnitude of that power, while not unlimited, is vast and should not be prolonged longer than absolutely necessary. The people of this great state live under a representative state government. It is vital that the Legislature reassert itself as a fully functioning co-equal branch of government and restore checks and balances as intended by our state constitution. It's not enough, nor is it acceptable, to simply sit on the sideline as we watch one official make nearly all the policy decisions. More recently, the governor has begun to overreach with his disaster powers by unilaterally launching long-term changes highlighting the need to re-imagine education. These types of long-term changes are not directly tied to the present crisis and should be properly vetted and discussed by the Legislature.
During a state of emergency in New York, the governor is able to issue executive orders which can suspend laws and regulations. Since a state of emergency was declared in New York by Gov. Cuomo on March 7, he has unilaterally issued 33 executive orders. That is in addition to other orders and mandates from state agencies, like the controversial March 25th Department of Health policy that mandated nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients into their facilities which were already filled with other residents who had underlying health issues. The governor has since extended his own orders and disaster powers multiple times without any additional required approval from the state Legislature.
Reasserting our place as a fully functioning legislative body and restoring power to our local governments is critical, not just for the challenges of today but for the challenges of the future of as well. That's why these reforms were so important. My colleagues on the other side of the aisle had an opportunity to stand up for representative democracy. It's a shame they refused a vote on these sensible reforms because the one-party-regime in Albany felt differently.