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A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward

The majority of Senate District 51 has now entered Phase Four of the reopening bringing a number of businesses and venues back online.  There are others, however, that planned to be up and running and had the rug pulled out from under them at the last minute.

For several months, I have called for a safe and responsible reopening of New York State on a regional basis while following CDC guidelines.  I have also repeatedly called for the governor to release detailed guidelines to help business owners, local elected officials, and residents prepare to safely reopen.  The lack of information has been disconcerting to say the least.  The governor has also changed the rules midstream on multiple occasions causing great confusion.  That was the case again as the start to Phase Four neared.

According to guidance originally issued by the state, Phase Four reopening would include malls, gyms, and movie theaters. However, at the last minute, local officials quietly received guidance noting that these businesses would not be opening as originally planned.  Instead, they were told media production, including motion picture, TV and streaming service production, as well as ‘low-risk’ indoor and outdoor arts and entertainment could resume operations.

The state has indicated these other businesses can open ‘soon,’ but no date, plan, or guidelines have been released that would indicate when that would be. While there are definite challenges for malls, movie theaters, and fitness centers, the governor needs to work with these industries, review proposals submitted by experts, and take steps to open the businesses that have paid their dues.

Nobody wants to see a surge in COVID-19 cases and it is vital that we continue to closely monitor health statistics and follow recommended safety precautions.  Local officials and small business owners have been diligently preparing to reopen safely and last-minute roadblocks are unfair.

It is also well past the time to end the governor’s one-man rule of New York State.  Earlier this month the legislature reconvened and I, along with the rest of the Senate Republican Conference, introduced an amendment to end the governor’s executive power.   Every Senate Democrat voted against the measure and it was defeated, allowing the governor to continue to act on his own.

I am co-sponsor of bipartisan legislation (S.8387) that would ensure the legislature’s rightful role as a co-equal branch of government during a state disaster emergency declaration by making the governor’s actions subject to review every 30 days.  Any continuation of the declaration and the suspension of laws would require legislative approval, as exists elsewhere in the United States. All declarations would be in force for no more than 30 days without re-approval.  Through this proposal, the public, by way of their elected representatives in Albany, would have greater participation in the process of how to close and reopen.  With the potential of a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic ahead, it is imperative that we make this change now.  This does not prevent the governor from taking necessary steps to keep the people of New York safe, but it does prevent the governor from circumventing the legislature in certain instances.

The inconsistency that has occurred in relation to determining what is open and what is essential versus that which is closed and non-essential have proven chaotic and contradictory, leading to unnecessary confusion amongst employers, employees and residents.  By requiring the governor to solicit input from local governments, school districts, individuals, businesses, associations and other parties affected by suspended laws and other executive actions, the confusion and inconsistencies surrounding executive orders can be greatly reduced.

For updated information regarding the reopening of our state, guidelines that individual businesses must follow, testing protocol, and other news check online at https://forward.ny.gov/.

Moving forward, I will continue to call for the end of the governor’s one-man rule of New York State while pursuing a safe re-opening based on facts.