(The Center Square) – New York Republicans don’t want to leave Albany this week without getting Democrats to agree on ending the COVID-19 emergency the state’s been under for more than a year.
GOP members from the Senate and Assembly held a news conference Monday to unveil a concurrent resolution that would terminate the order Gov. Andrew Cuomo established 15 months ago.
“We are in a state of recovery – not emergency – and it’s time New Yorkers are able to return to their daily routines and a sense of normalcy,” Assembly Republican Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski.
Chances are the measure – like other Republican efforts to end the emergency during the session – will fail. If that comes to fruition, Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said it will be because Democrats are fine with letting a scandal-plagued governor continue to set policy.
Cuomo, in a news conference Monday, indicated that he was close to lifting most restrictions that remain.
"When we hit 70%, then I feel comfortable saying to the people of this state we can relax virtually all restrictions," he said. "We're at 68.6[%] almost there, but this isn't horseshoes. We want to be at 70%, 1.45 to go, and then we can lift the capacity restriction, social distancing, the hygiene protocols, the health screenings, the potential tracing.
"Masks will only be required as recommended by the CDC," Cuomo continued. "There'll be still will be some institutional guidelines. Large venues, schools, public transportation, hospitals, nursing homes. But we hit 70%, we will be back to life as normal, or as normalized as you can be post-COVID."
More than three months ago, Democratic legislative leaders said they came to an agreement that largely ended the emergency while allowing Cuomo to extend some orders, but only after communicating with key lawmakers.
Ortt called that a “sham.”
Numerous Democrats have called on Cuomo to resign after a series of reports regarding his personal behavior and his administration’s work. He faces an independent review overseen by state Attorney General Letitia James regarding sexual harassment allegations, some of which involve current or former staffers.
In addition, Cuomo faces a federal probe over his administration’s handling of nursing home patients, including ordering facilities to take COVID-positive individuals during the early stages of the pandemic. Reports have indicated that administration officials pushed back for months on efforts that would have shown more accurately just how many deaths were attributable to long-term care facilities.
Members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee are also conducting an impeachment inquiry.
Cuomo has rejected calls for his resignation, which have died down in recent weeks.
“By extending his emergency powers indefinitely, Democrats handed the governor a tool for his political survival and he has used it to his full advantage,” said State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, sponsor of the Senate resolution. “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 that he is facing. Before we adjourn, Democrats have a responsibility to end this charade.”
Initially, Cuomo’s orders were set to end on April 30, but the Democratic lawmakers’ deal will let at least some of the orders continue until the federal government announces the end of the emergency.
Cuomo has relaxed several orders pertaining to the pandemic. However, there has been some confusion with a few, including whether children would be able to go mask-free at schools.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker sent a letter to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday saying the state planned to lift the regulation on Monday. However, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported state education leaders sent a memo to school districts on Sunday saying no changes were in effect just yet.
“If there’s ever been an advertisement to remove these powers, it’s been these last 48-72 hours,” Ortt told reporters.