Cuomo calls on lawmakers to complete state business

Mar 16, 2020

New York City Public Schools will close until April 20 and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is ordering all downstate non-essential state workers to stay home starting Monday. But he says the legislative session will continue as planned this week, despite two state lawmakers now sick with the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, a third New Yorker, a 79-year-old woman from New York City with underlying health conditions, has died from the virus. The latest numbers of those infected with the virus were also released. 

Cuomo says all non-essential state workers who live in the downstate area from Rockland County south, including New York City area and Long Island, will not have to go to work beginning Monday, to help prevent the spread of the virus.

“That’s about half of the work force of the state,” Cuomo said.

All upstate state workers will be expected to show up for their jobs.

The governor has also asked businesses to allow staff to work from home and consider closing their establishments.

Two state lawmakers who were in session as recently as March 3 said Saturday night that they have come down with the virus. But so far, no other legislators or staff have been quarantined, and Cuomo says the 213 lawmakers and their staffs will be coming to the Capitol each business day for as long as the next two-and-a-half weeks to complete the budget.

He likened their duties to those of frontline workers during the crisis, like nurses and the military.

“If we can ask nurses to put on hazmat suit and take blood, we can ask elected officials to come sit at desk and vote on a piece of legislation,” Cuomo said.

The governor says he needs the legislature close by to authorize any emergency measures that might need to be taken.

“You need soldiers to fight the war,” Cuomo said. “Government must function.”

The governor continues to say that he believes the budget can still include additional items, like legalizing the adult use of recreational marijuana and rolling back the state’s Jan. 1 bail reform laws, which ended many forms of cash bail in New York.

There has been talk of completing the budget early, but Cuomo says there are a lot of complex issues that still need to be talked through and he doesn’t want to rush.   

In a statement, Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said that the Senate will return to the Capitol Monday and she is deciding on a future schedule for plans to finish the state budget early. She says the Senate’s New York City office will close, as well as all Senate district offices across the state. And she says all non-essential staff will be working remotely.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, in a statement, says that the Assembly will also hold session Monday and is working with the state Department of Health to decide if other members or staff need to be tested for the virus. He says the assembly members are trying to “delicately balance our constitutional duties” with keeping the public safe. He also warns that the “situation is changing rapidly.”

Cuomo also announced later in the day that the New York City schools will be closing down this week. The governor, in a conference call with downstate county executives, says he wanted to make sure there were plans for child care for essential workers like hospital staff and who can’t stay home to care for their children. 

And he says his administration will help the districts continue to feed the many children who are dependent on the schools for free or reduced cost meals.

“We need to make sure that the two possible negative consequences are managed,” Cuomo said.   

All of the schools in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester Counties will also shut down. The closures add to many upstate school districts who have already announced they won’t be open this week.