New York state lawmakers issued their first major override of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pandemic executive actions Wednesday, voting to repeal orders issued at the height of the state’s coronavirus outbreak.
The Senate and Assembly moved to end requirements that restaurants and bars must sell food in order to sell alcoholic beverages — a rule enacted last summer, which drew criticism from the restaurant industry and spawned creative menu offerings, like “Cuomo chips” and “compliance plates.” They also passed resolutions to relax outdated compliance rules for vaccine suppliers and to treat individuals who volunteer to take on significant government work as public officers in order to comply with government disclosure and transparency rules. (The governor last year brought back several former aides who worked as volunteers as the state prepared to respond to the pandemic.)
The three resolutions marked the first of many that lawmakers are expected to pass to override the increasingly embattled governor, who is under investigation for sexual harassment and other issues, leading many fellow Democrats to call for his resignation. Cuomo’s office has noted that lawmakers who disagree with his pandemic actions have the power to override them.
“We are asserting ourselves as a Legislature as we promised we would do,” Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris said in floor remarks. “And these repeals are just the beginning.”
Democratic leaders argued that the executive orders “are no longer applicable or necessary” given changes to the state’s vaccination rollout, the number of New Yorkers now inoculated against the virus and declining Covid-19 cases in the state.
Sen. John Liu, a Queens Democrat and sponsor of the transparency resolution, added that the public officers law “should never have been subverted by gubernatorial executive order.”
“Amid reports of political chicanery and other conflicts of interest in vaccine distribution, this legislative resolution cancels the governor’s order that waived ethics and transparency rules, and re-imposes much-needed integrity to the executive branch,” he said in a statement.
Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the resolutions. But many questioned the timing of the Legislature’s action, which came nearly two months after lawmakers stripped Cuomo — who faces allegations of sexual harassment, inappropriate workplace behavior and a coverup of nursing home deaths — of most of the vast emergency powers he was granted at the beginning of the pandemic.
“The reality is we had this power to do this since day one — day one when the governor was granted these unprecedented and unconstitutional executive powers,” Sen. George Borrello (R-Chautauqua) said during floor debate. “So here we are: 54 days after we were told the governor’s powers were rescinded. … I’m happy to be here, but I’m sad that it took us this long to put aside the politics, to do what was right for the people of New York State.”
Assemblymember Michael Lawler (R-Orangetown) said the resolutions are “a good start,” but just that.
“We need to have many more of these concurrent resolutions to start to rein in this governor and allow New Yorkers to get back to normal,” he added.
Sen. John Mannion (D-Onondaga County), sponsor of the food service resolution, said the Legislature’s actions are not just about rescinding “arbitrary and burdensome” executive orders, but also “foundational constitutional principles, like checks and balances.”
“This is not about throwing caution to the wind or rejecting measures to protect public health. It is about striking a balance,” he said in floor remarks. “It is about common sense. It’s about respect for businesses and respect for New Yorkers.”
Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi said the state was “in the process” of lifting the food service requirement, given the decline in Covid-19 cases. “We are pleased that the legislature agrees that we have made enough progress on COVID that New York is in a position to repeal this provision,” he said in a statement.
As for the outdated vaccine penalties, Azzopardi said, the state “previously repealed half of them and repealed the rest in our last [executive order].”
Curfew changes: Ahead of Wednesday’s session, Cuomo announced that the state will lift the midnight curfew for outdoor dining areas beginning May 17 and for indoor dining areas on May 31. A 1 a.m. curfew for catered events will similarly be lifted beginning on May 17 for events where attendees have provided proof of vaccination status or a negative Covid-19 test, and on May 31 for all catered events.
New York will also allow larger catered events to resume at residences as of May 3, as long as they are staffed by licensed caterers, permitted by local officials and adhere to safety guidance.
The governor further said that beginning May 3, New York City establishments can allow seating at bars consistent with the food service guidance in effect statewide.
Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association, said the change will bring New York in line with many neighboring states.
“With vaccinations going up and positivity rates going down, the hospitality industry can set our sights on rebounding this spring and summer as we scratch and claw our way back to profitability, which for many has seemed impossible,” she said in a statement.
Gianaris said the governor’s announcement appears to be “the direct result” of the Legislature’s move to begin repealing executive orders issued at the height of the pandemic. He added that the governor “was not at all pleased” by leadership’s decision to repeal his executive orders.
But Lawler argued that the curfew changes are essentially another month-long extension of the policy. And Assemblymember Ed Ra (R-Franklin Square) urged lawmakers to immediately end the curfew.
“There’s no reason to wait. Families who own these establishments have already suffered too much and waited for too long,” he said in a statement.