Adjusting to a new way of working during this time of social distancing should also apply to the New York state Legislature.
The legislative session in Albany came to an abrupt halt in March as the widespread effects of the coronavirus pandemic became more evident and members of the Legislature were among those testing positive for the disease.
In the resulting rush to get out of town, Assembly and Senate leaders gave Gov. Andrew Cuomo wide latitude to essentially proceed however he saw fit, leading to a state budge process that E.J. McMahon, research director for the good-government group EmpireCenter, called as secretive “as I’ve ever seen in 30 or 40 years.”
Cuomo said that the legislative session was “effectively over” after the budget was passed, but the session still has an adjournment date of June 2, and we agree with lawmakers and others calling for the session to continue remotely.
Policy issues left to discuss this spring include expanding absentee and early voting, tenants’ rights and drug policies in addition to myriad legislation necessary to address the pandemic, one being a request by business advocates to increase liability protections for companies, employees and contractors involved in manufacturing and other relief efforts related to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
The Assembly and Senate already approved remote voting before the budget was passed, and lawmakers have been given guidance and technical expertise on how a virtual session can function, so there is nothing stopping them from continuing to do their jobs. Businesses, schools and public and private agencies are finding ways to be productive without meeting face to face. The Legislature should too. Bills can be introduced, made public, debated and vote on.
There’s no question that COVID-19 has prevented things from continuing as they had before, but the new normal is to carry on as best as possible. State policy decisions still need to be made, and the executive branch alone must not be the final arbiter. That means having our representatives remaining involved in governing the state at this critical time.