NEW YORK STATE, N.Y.—Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Sept. 12 that she would not be renewing at least one of her remaining emergency powers that expired at midnight.
The emergency powers have been extended month to month throughout her tenure thus far so she could manage the COVID-19 pandemic as she sees fit. But for several months, even back to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tenure that ended last year, the powers have been a contentious point for some state lawmakers in the New York State Legislature who say they have outlived their usefulness.
The ability to restore the powers at some point seems to still rest with the governor’s office, though the State Assembly and State Senate may have to approve any restoration.
There are a few emergency powers that were given to the governor during the pandemic, but the one that Hochul allowed to expire earlier this week gave the governor the power to unilaterally buy certain things using state funds (or contract with entities without going through the normal competitive bid process that governments normally must adhere to for spending certain amounts of money) without the involvement of the legislature.
As COVID cases remain a fairly normal part of life but the governmental response dissipates, ongoing safety measures have been rolled back, the most recent being the lifted public transportation mask requirement Sept. 7. At this time, masks are still required in healthcare and clinical settings.
When asked what this decision will mean for Tompkins County, Assemblymember Anna Kelles responded saying that “Some of the changes resulting from the end of the Governor’s COVID-19 Emergency Powers will impact municipalities immediately, like the flexibility that has permitted local governments to hold hybrid and remote meetings during the pandemic.”
Kelles added that she is glad Hochul “left the door open to reinstating the order if needed,” which would allow the state to procure additional personal protective equipment and expand testing capacities quickly if cases were to surge.
“There are no easy solutions but I am confident that together we can make adjustments and minimize any consequences. Most importantly, as the pandemic continues, we must collectively take precautions to ensure we protect ourselves, people with disabilities, and the immunocompromised,” Kelles said.
Shawna Black, chair of the Tompkins County Legislature, said that she’s happy to see the return of in-person meetings as post-COVID “normal” life resumes. That was one of the primary changes that governments installed, partly so that meetings could be held safely but with the added benefit that it allowed for wider public participation as meetings were conducted and broadcast virtually. That seems more and more likely to become a permanent fixture of local governments.
“The one benefit the pandemic has provided is the ability to expand access through our county YouTube channel of all of our meetings,” Black said. “It’s also allowed the ability for the public to comment in person, via Zoom or email.”
In a press release Sept. 13, Hochul urged New Yorkers to “remain vigilant in keeping themselves, their loved ones and their communities safe and healthy.”
Hochul also reminded individuals to stay up-to-date on vaccine boosters and to test before traveling or attending gatherings.