Governor Andrew Cuomo won’t stand in the way of state lawmakers reconvening in remote sessions, he said Saturday during his daily COVID-19 briefing. The governor said what the chambers do, as a separate branch of government, is their business.
“In terms of passing legislation remotely, they can do that. That's up to them,” Cuomo told reporter. “As far as getting into a very complex issue that requires real analysis, and real data, and trying to do that on Zoom conferences, I don't know that that's the best way to do it. But that's up to them as well,” he added, responding to a question about whether the legislature might take up bills to legalize recreational marijuana in a remote session.
Both the Senate and Assembly passed resolutions that would allow them to legislate remotely, but so far neither chamber has done so beyond passing the state budget, a lack of action that has drawn criticism from good government groups, editorial boards across the state and even former legislative staffers.
Andrew Hoppin, the former and first-ever Chief Information Officer for the NYS Senate, said the state could resume doing the people’s business without unnecessarily gathering in Albany by adding some “affordable off-the-shelf software applications” used to support elected bodies working remotely. He stressed some of these changes might even improve their transparency after the crisis is over.
He has joined with Common Cause New York in repeatedly calling on legislative bodies to return to doing the people’s work.
“It's not our expectation that this will be a normal session for the state legislature,” Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York told Gothamist/WNYC on Saturday. Since the governor needs to focus on triaging life and death needs facing the state, she said, it falls to the legislature to find ways to plan for the future.
“It’s the job of our legislative leaders to think through how policy needs to change in two months, three months and four months,” said Lerner.
State lawmakers are signaling they hope to be back to legislating soon. On the local level, the New City Council will hold its first meeting via remote session next Wednesday.
“We have lots of work to get done and plan on being back in session,” Senate Majority spokesperson Mike Murphy said in a statement. “We prepared for this situation and passed a resolution that has allowed us to hold session remotely. We look forward to continuing to serve the people of New York in this unprecedented time,” he said.
Michael Whyland, a spokesman for the Assembly Majority, said there is no session meeting this week, and no decisions have been made about remote meetings.
Cuomo also defended his legislative colleagues on Saturday. He said he spoke with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Friday and offered the assurance that he, and other lawmakers, are still working, even if they are not in Albany.
“From a taxpayer’s point of view, if they think their Assemblyperson or Senator is not working because they are not here, they have to think again,” said Cuomo. He stated lawmakers “are probably working harder than they normally work” because of the number of constituent calls their offices are fielding because of the pandemic.
Cuomo said those lawmakers are in turn calling him, which is how he knows, “They are working.”