During Tuesday’s Joint Legislative Budget Hearing and in a letter to Gov. Hochul, Assembly Republicans blasted the administration for continuing to force mask mandates onto New Yorkers as COVID rates retreat and neighboring states roll back requirements. The Conference also voiced its objection to state Department of Health (DOH) and state Education Department (SED) proposals that will make emergency COVID regulations permanent in state law by completely circumventing the legislative process.
A copy of the letter is available here.
“The COVID pandemic opened the door to an era of government overreach and the Hochul Administration is taking full advantage of the opportunity,” said Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R,C,I-Pulaski). “If the governor and her agency commissioners want to turn temporary measures into permanent laws, send the bills to the Legislature, and let them go through the legislative process with debate and proper consideration. Making agency directives permanent is a blatant end-run around the Senate and Assembly, and an extension of the unilateral Executive-Order governing that defined the last two years.”
The DOH and SED are proposing to make permanent a series of temporary emergency regulations originally intended to be in place during the pandemic. The regulations are currently in the public comment period until Feb. 14, after which they can be made permanent. Some of the regulations include:
- Prevention of COVID-19 Transmission by Covered Entities: Requires hospitals and healthcare providers to ensure all workers are fully vaccinated as a condition of employment. This requirement forced caregivers out of facilities and has exacerbated the state’s current staffing crisis.
- Face Coverings for COVID-19 Prevention: Gives the health commissioner the authority to implement mask requirements on all New Yorkers over the age of 2.
- Investigation of Communicable Disease; Isolation and Quarantine: Allows DOH and local health departments to issue isolation and quarantine orders to individuals who have been diagnosed or exposed to a highly-contagious communicable disease.
At Tuesday’s Joint Legislative Budget hearing on Health, the Ranking Republican Member on the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, Ed Ra (R-Franklin Square), expressed his concerns to Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett: “Why is the Department pursuing this in this manner as opposed to coming to the Legislature? (This) seems to be an end-run around the Legislature to be pursuing permanent regulations in this regard. If you think that authority should be sought by the Department, that should be a conversation that you and the governor should have with the Legislature and should not be done by regulation. This is an attempt by the Executive to utilize through a back door the stronger powers that the previous governor sought, and that the governor now does not have because the prior emergency declaration expired.”
“New York is no longer in a state of emergency, but this administration is governing like we are. Creating new laws through agency regulations while completely avoiding the Legislature is the same approach the prior administration used while forcing lockdowns, curfews and restrictions onto communities,” said Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning). “COVID emergency protocols were intended to be temporary, and neighboring states are finally ending many of their mandates. Why is it taking so long for New York to do the same? It’s time to return to normalcy and to responsible governing.”
Several bordering states have already started to roll back COVID requirements. The state of Pennsylvania allowed its statewide mask mandate to expire in January, and mask mandates in schools are left to local discretion. This week, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont have both stated that school mask mandates will end in the near future. In stark contrast, Gov. Hochul has indicated that New York’s mask mandate on school children is likely to continue, even though the indoor mask mandate is set to expire on Thursday, Feb. 10. The Hochul Administration is currently appealing a Jan. 24 State Supreme Court decision that struck down the indoor mask mandate.