Good Morning from New York…
Last week, the New York State Senate and Assembly convened in Legislative Session for the first time since passing a budget at the beginning of April. Both Chambers were largely empty; a handful of legislators entered in small groups to run the floor and debate bills, most wearing face masks as they spoke. Both Houses passed over two dozen bills in response to the coronavirus pandemic, several of them prompting questions and statements from lawmakers, with most debate regarding measures that on rent/housing issues, access to absentee ballots, and unemployment benefits.
The measures that passed included a crack-down on price gouging, a mandate for residential health care facilities to develop pandemic preparedness plans, and a bill mandating a study on the health impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on minority communities. Other highlights included the Emergency Rent Relief Act of 2020, that directs $100 million from the federal CARES Act to be used towards rental assistance, and an extension of the Child Victims Act, allowing sexual abuse survivors an additional year to file suit.
Governor Cuomo added a new—unofficial—requirement for regions to progress to the next phase of reopening: data must be analyzed by international experts. Cuomo first announced the added standard on an Albany radio show, mere hours before five regions of Upstate New York were preparing to enter Phase 2, with almost no guidance from Cuomo or state government on the reopening of hundreds of salons, offices, and stores. Notably, Cuomo had not mentioned the additional requirement (or provided any additional guidance to those regions) at his daily briefing, instead appearing with celebrities who praised Cuomo’s leadership and urged New Yorkers to wear a mask.
The five regions were allowed to proceed on Friday afternoon, but the delay surprised a number of Upstate officials, including Control Room members, and has tested the cohesion between state and local leaders, as well as raising new questions about the role of local governments in the coming months. Many local officials are expressing frustration at the ambiguity (and lack of direction) coming from state government while also lamenting the lack of local control.
The Regions next in line to begin Phase 2 are Western New York—which began Phase 1 on May 19—and the Capital Region, which started reopening on May 20. The Mid-Hudson region and Long Island began Phase 1 the Tuesday and Wednesday after Memorial Day, respectively.
New York City is the only region that has not met reopening criteria. Specifically, the five boroughs do not have enough hospital beds available or contact tracers in place to begin Phase 1, but Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have said they expect NYC to meet the benchmarks by June 8. Cuomo said that state officials are focusing on controlling hot spots and preparing hospitals to deal with a potential second spike.
As the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer has drawn thousands to the streets in cities across New York State and the Country, Mayor Bill de Blasio sought to defend both protesters and police and Governor Cuomo signaled support for a long sought criminal justice reform after a spate of violent clashes in New York City and other Upstate cities erupted over the weekend.
Although Cuomo’s response has remained largely rhetorical, the Governor suggested that Mayor Bill de Blasio could make a change to 50-a, a state law that shields a police officer’s disciplinary records, by modifying the New York City Administrative Code and procedures, but also stated that he would sign a bill repealing 50-a if the Legislature passed it. De Blasio said, “If we could do that in the month of June I think it would be a huge step forward.” It is unclear if the legislature will take any additional action prior to state primaries on June 23, but legislative leaders have promised their members that they would meet again this year to pass priority legislation and take further action in response to the coronavirus emergency.
Meanwhile, President Trump had nothing on his public schedule yesterday. There is debate within the White House over whether he should give an Oval Office address. What would he say? Would it actually calm nerves and bring the country together, or stoke racial division? Former Vice President Joe Biden wrote a piece on Medium, stating, “We are a nation in pain, but we must not allow this pain to destroy us. We are a nation enraged, but we cannot allow our rage to consume us. Please stay safe. Please take care of each other.”
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