It speaks eloquently of the state Legislature’s inability to agree completely on anything when lawmakers diminished Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s sweeping authority granted at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic by passing a bill Friday that, truth be told, satisfied nobody.
In what amounted to a flaccid compromise, the state Senate approved the bill in a 43-20 decision with all Democrats voting in favor and each Republican senator voting against it. The measure revokes Cuomo’s authority to issue new executive orders. Cuomo has issued 96 executive orders since the start of the pandemic a year ago. About 60 remain in effect.
The measure authorizes the governor to extend or modify orders to respond to the ongoing pandemic, but requires a five-day notice to the 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.
Cuomo has come under fire by lawmakers, officials and activists across the nation in recent weeks, with several state Democrats calling for his resignation last week, after three women publicly accused him of sexual harassment or unwanted intrusive sexual advancements. State Attorney General Letitia James is investigating the claims.
At his regular COVID-19 briefing Wednesday, Cuomo said, while glancing at top aides seated around the table, “We have an agreement on a bill, where the Legislature can repeal any executive order that I issue with over 50%, both houses.”
Cuomo’s neutral, distanced, matter-of-fact tone hints at how the Legislature will handle its new task: A club-footed style that moves toward its objective at a snail’s pace. The Senate last Friday didn’t so much strip Cuomo of his emergency powers as dress them in new clothes. Like Samson, Cuomo lost some of his strength, but the Delilahs of the state Capitol didn’t gain much at all.