ALBANY — Contending New Yorkers no longer need Gov. Andrew Cuomo's unilateral mandates, Republican lawmakers argued Monday the state of emergency declared in connection with the pandemic should be canceled immediately.
Senate GOP Leader Rob Ortt, R-Niagara County, said Cuomo's recent mandates concerning mask-wearing at public schools have caused consternation and confusion for district administrators and families.
With the 2021 legislative session slated to conclude Thursday, Ortt said it would be "unconscionable" for lawmakers to return to their districts without rescinding Cuomo's authority to manage the emergency through executive fiat.
“I have received phone calls from superintendents who are in my district who are utterly angry, who are upset, and who are confused,” the senator said.
Cuomo says lawmakers authorized the emergency orders last year, with the Legislature having the ability to reverse the mandates through a resolution that would not be subject to a gubernatorial veto.
Democrats, who dominate both chambers of the Legislature, have tinkered with the authorization but have been reluctant to rescind Cuomo's emergency powers.
But some Republicans said "chaos" broke out in several school districts, with children arriving for classes Monday morning not knowing if they were still required to wear masks.
“If there’s ever been an advertisement to remove these powers, it’s been the last 48 to 72 hours,” Ortt said.
COVID-19 positivity rates have fallen significantly across every region of New York over the past several months, noted Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury.
The days when New York needed a central authority to make all key decisions in response to the pandemic "have been in the rearview mirror for a long time," Stec said.
"Let the state Education Department run itself" without having to take orders from Cuomo, Stec said. "Everything doesn't have to run through the governor."
Cuomo clarified the updated school mask mandate Monday while denying his orders created confusion.
"In New York state, we are going to modify CDC guidance and allow schools to choose no mask outside for children," the governor told reporters in Manhattan. "In other words, children wear masks in school, inside. When they are outside the school building, in recess, etc., it's hot, they are running around, there is no mandate for masks outside. We spoke to CDC, and CDC has no objection to that and is fine with that."
Cuomo, who is expected to seek a fourth term as governor next year, is facing an ongoing impeachment inquiry by the Assembly over sexual misconduct claims. Two other probes, one by federal prosecutors and the other by the state attorney general's office, are delving into allegations that the Cuomo administration undercounted the COVID-19 deaths of nursing home patients at the same time he was earning a reported $5 million for a memoir recounting his pandemic leadership.
Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-Schoharie, said it was time to return state government to normalcy.
"It would be ridiculous to leave this declaration (of state of emergency) in effect until next year’s session, and the only person it would help or protect is Governor Cuomo," Tague said.
Cuomo's use of press events to announce tweaks to pandemics restrictions have been a "charade" to distract the public from the scandals that have enveloped the governor, said state Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay.
“Nearly every week he hosts a shameless photo op to announce the loosening of one restriction or another, which has helped perpetuate a business-as-usual narrative and distract from the multiple scandals and investigations he is facing," Borrello said.
Assembly GOP Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, noted Cuomo has had the extraordinary powers for 15 months. He said infection rates have dropped to the point that the state Capitol can be reopened to the public. The building was closed by Cuomo's order.
"In order to transact government in a transparent way, you have to have the public involved," he said.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com