Gov. Kathy Hochul said Monday that she will not extend her Covid-19 emergency powers, ending an extraordinary ability to marshal state resources against the virus and facing a Republican opponent sharply critical of her pandemic performance.
The governor cited falling caseloads of Covid for her move ending a 2021 executive order that granted emergency powers for pandemic-related measures without legislative approval. She has wielded those powers to give hospitals more hiring leeway, relax licensing rules for health care personnel and allow more medical professionals to administer vaccines.
The Gothamist reported Monday that with executive orders granting the extraordinary powers ending, the administration now faces normal purchasing regulations requiring safeguards like competitive bidding review of contracts by the state comptroller.
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Planes, trains, buses and transportation stations were among the last places in the state where masks were still required as part of the effort to limit the spread of Covid-19.
“We're feeling comfortable that we can suspend them,” Hochul said Monday of her emergency powers. “We have been following the normal procurement rules for some time, but this allowed us some other extraordinary measures that we won't need right now.”
One of her fiercest critics, State Senate Minority Leader Robert G. Ortt of North Tonawanda, cited no need for emergency powers almost two months ago, just as he did for former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
“She knows this is not true," he said on July 14. "It’s just another desperate attempt at clinging onto unilateral power, like her predecessor before her.”
On Monday, State Sen. Edward A. Rath III, R-Amherst, called the news "extremely welcome" but long overdue.
“The cycle of excluding the Legislature from their elected positions went on for far too long. The time to end this was long past," he said in a statement. "Now the Legislature has much work to do in restoring the balance of power and working to earn back the trust of the public.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul said that remote learning during the pandemic was a "mistake" that especially affected working women.
Hochul's continued use of emergency powers has entered the statewide political debate as Hochul's opponent, Rep. Lee Zeldin of Suffolk County, has consistently criticized her monthly extensions.
“Deja vu," he said in a July statement. "Every 30 days, Hochul unilaterally bypasses the Legislature & extends her self-claimed COVID emergency powers, which she has used to advance her rampant pay to play corruption & other abuses of power.”
The Albany Times Union reported in July that suspension of normal contract rules helped rapid testing company Digital Gadgets secure $637 million in no-bid business since December. The newspaper also reported that family members of the company's top official donated $300,000 to Hochul’s re-election campaign.