Coronavirus Bill Signing

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo discusses his signing of emergency coronavirus legislation Tuesday in the Red Room at the State Capitol.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday signed a $40 million appropriation that will help the state combat the COVID-19 coronavirus, while also receiving broad power to respond to the outbreak.

The emergency measure passed by a vote of 53-4 in the Senate Monday night and 120-12 in the Assembly just after midnight Tuesday.

The legislation allocates $40 million to help the state bolster staffing and equipment to combat the coronavirus, and gives the governor broad decision-making power in the state’s response.

The approval came after the state confirmed its first case of coronavirus, a 39-year-old health care worker from Manhattan. A second case was confirmed Tuesday — a 50-year-old Westchester man with no travel history to high-risk areas.

The reaction to the measure’s approval was mixed, with some applauding swift action to combat the coronavirus while others condemned the process. Democrats had met behind closed doors for hours on Monday to debate the measure, according to the Times Union of Albany.

State Sen. George Borrello, R-Chautauqua County, said the legislation was a “power grab” capitalizing on the coronavirus as an excuse to “inappropriately and excessively” expand Cuomo’s powers. He voted against the measure.

“While I fully supported the funding appropriation, I could not support handing the governor the power to act unilaterally during any event he deems an ‘emergency,’” Borrello said. “The bill would have given him sweeping and sole authority to suspend and alter any state or local law or rule and issue directives.”

Borrello said unnecessary language was added to allow the governor to declare a wide spectrum of events as “disasters” — even blight — giving him “ultimate authority.”

The bill permits Cuomo to issue directives in response to a disaster — an “occurrence or imminent, impending or urgent threat of widespread or severe damage, injury or loss of life or property” — resulting from a slew of potential crises, including not only disease, but also natural disasters, terrorism activity and infestation, among other issues.

The measure permits the Legislature to reconvene and revoke a directive they feel is too broad.

That element helped Assemblyman Joseph Giglio, R-Gowanda, make his decision in voting for the bill.

“And there’s no guarantee that the governor will spend all the $40 million,” Giglio said. “This is to ensure they have the funding if this turns into a pandemic.”

Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie, a Democrat from the Bronx, said in a statement that the funding will purchase lifesaving equipment and supplies and ensure health care workers have the training they need to deal with the expected crisis.

“It’s important to act expeditiously so New Yorkers can know their government is doing everything it can to combat this potential health crisis,” he said.

But some lawmakers also voiced concerns about the measure’s sunset date: April 30, 2021, according to the Times Union. Opponents — and even some who ultimately voted in favor of the bill — questioned why the governor requires 14 months to respond to the coronavirus.

Four no votes were split equally by party: Sens. Julia Salazar, D-Brooklyn; Gustavo Rivera, D-Bronx; Borrello; and Sen. Pamela Helming, R-Ontario County.

During floor debate, Assembly members in both parties also criticized the legislation as rushed, adding that it may open the door for executive overreach. Many of the critics would end up voting yes.

In signing the bill Tuesday, Cuomo said the people of New York need to know the government is doing everything possible to confront and contain the evolving coronavirus situation.

“Last night, the Legislature voted to pass this measure, and I applaud them for their swift action that demonstrates their appreciation of the complexity of this situation and their commitment to responsive measures,” the governor said. “While New York’s overall risk level remains low, these actions will provide our doctors, hospitals and first responders with the tools they need to ensure the health and safety of all New Yorkers, and to prepare for any possible scenario.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Tom Reed was among seven Republicans and seven Democrats of the Problem Solvers Caucus to meet Tuesday Vice President Mike Pence on coronavirus preparedness — and legislation earmarking funding on the federal level.

“The American people rightly expect us to rise above partisan politics, unite together,” Reed said, “and immediately pass an emergency funding bill to combat this threat to our country and families.”

(Jim Eckstrom is executive editor of the Olean Times Herald and Bradford Publishing Co. His email is jeckstrom@oleantimesherald.com.)

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