If you’re getting a case of deja vu all over again with regard to the latest public health emergency, no one could blame you.
In the wake of a significant rise in the number of cases of monkeypox in New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul last week declared a state disaster emergency.
With that, she assumes many of the same executive powers that former Gov. Andrew Cuomo used to exercise virtual complete control over the coronavirus situation.
Many of those policies were later determined to be overreaching with regard to public health and the state economy, and in some cases contributed to illnesses and deaths.
While we’ve agreed in the past that the governor needs to be able to act quickly to respond to a public emergency, we disagreed with the Legislature conceding to the governor its authority to help manage the emergency.
In particular, there’s a clause in Hochul’s emergency declaration that should give New Yorkers pause and give legislators the impetus to get off the sidelines this time.
It reads: “(B)y virtue of the authority vested in me by Section 29-a of Article 2-B of the Executive Law to temporarily suspend or modify any statute, local law, ordinance, order, rule, or regulation, or parts thereof, of any agency during a State disaster emergency, if compliance with such statute, local law, ordinance, order, rule, or regulation would prevent, hinder, or delay action necessary to cope with the disaster emergency or if necessary to assist or aid in coping with such disaster …”
She then went on to list five such modifications immediately, largely related to who can administer the monkeypox vaccine.
But as we learned during the covid emergency, the governor can use executive power to take more significant steps in the name of reining in the spread, such as mask and vaccine mandates, limits on access to medical facilities for visitors, ordering schools to shut down, and seizing medical equipment.
Our state senators and Assembly members, who provide us with our most direct representation in state government, need to ensure that this governor doesn’t abuse her power in the name of a public health emergency the way her former boss did.
We’re not saying Hochul will necessarily do that. We’re saying the Legislature needs to step in to serve as a check on her power.
We saw what happened when lawmakers just let Cuomo do whatever he wanted.
If there are state tax dollars to be spent or mandates to be placed on local governments to help manage the crisis, lawmakers should be on front lines of those decisions. If there are decisions that need to be made related to the economy, allocation of medical resources, the education of our children or restrictions on public meetings and public information, our lawmakers need to be speaking up for us.
We elected these people for a reason. They need to learn from the past and take an early and active role in this latest emergency.