This week the New York State Legislature formally reconvened in an unfamiliar format, with debates and voting conducted through video feeds. Like many things forced to change under COVID-19 precautions, our work took on a new look, but was an important and necessary effort to have legislative activity back up and running.
Technology provided us with the ability to work through more than 30 pieces of legislation, a truly historic achievement for our state. Measures ranged from strengthening penalties on price gouging of medical supplies, to establishing a disaster emergency loan program and requiring a public health study on the COVID impact on minority communities.
The Assembly Minority Conference offered three targeted, common-sense proposals that were unfortunately rejected with no explanation. They pertained to economic challenges facing property owners, operations at residential healthcare facilities and limiting the governor’s authorities in future emergency responses. These are some of the most pressing concerns in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak that has ravaged New York, yet each was inexplicably ignored by the Assembly Majority.
Real Estate Owners’ Tax Credit: This proposal would have allowed owners of rental property to apply for a tax credit equal to the loss of income related to tenants’ inability to make payments. As owners are feeling pressure from both tenants unable to make rent and lenders continuing to send bills, it is critical we find a way to support the thousands of New Yorkers in this precarious situation.
Healthcare Facilities Study: This proposal would have required a study into the impacts of COVID-19 at residential healthcare facilities. Gov. Cuomo’s health department required nursing homes to take COVID-positive residents, which ultimately contributed to the death of more than 5,000 nursing home residents. This is unacceptable. Our amendment would demand a comprehensive investigation into conditions in these homes, especially as they pertain to the differential health impacts of COVID-19 residents and staff.
Restoration of Checks-and-Balances: Finally, Assembly Minority members called for restoration of legislative checks and balances, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo took enormous liberties with executive emergency powers and plainly refuses to loosen his grip on state policy-making activities. The proposed amendment would place limits on emergency declarations and require a county-by-county assessment of future crises. It would also ensure judicial review of potential constitutional issues arriving from executive orders curtailing activities.
It is difficult to grasp how the Assembly Majority could plainly reject measures so obviously needed, especially as Gov. Cuomo has made clear his intention to continue to try to dictate every facet of the state’s pandemic response and comeback. The immediate emergency has subsided. Now is a time for cooperation, communication and teamwork. Sadly, we have seen no indication Gov. Cuomo has any interest in those notions or loosening his singular grip on our state’s recovery.
Unilateral rule is creating more and more confusion by the day, to the detriment of our communities. The chaos surrounding the long-awaited start of Phase 2 re-openings this week is more evidence that we need an immediate return to representative democracy and local authority. Five upstate regions – Central New York, the Southern Tier, Mohawk Valley, North Country and Finger Lakes – had met previously designated metrics and planned to advance to another stage of their reopening on Friday. But on Thursday, the Cuomo administration indicated Phase 2 would be delayed until further notice – setting off alarms across upstate and generating justifiable anger from residents and officials in those communities.
By this afternoon, the direction from the governor changed again, and the five regions are now beginning Phase 2. The complete confusion around this situation is cause for concern, and does not inspire confidence that the prolonged process of recovery will be effective. This state is in desperate need of answers and of leadership. Right now, the executive is providing neither.
My office has fielded countless inquiries from families, businesses and organizations regarding the governor’s actions. My answer to them is simple, the Legislature needs to take back its standing as an equal branch of government. Gov. Cuomo has shown serious resistance to that idea, and until he changes his tune, New Yorkers are going to be stuck awaiting more confusing orders rather than the clarity they expect and deserve.