A new bill in the New York State Assembly seeks to give one of the nation’s worst governors, Andrew Cuomo, even more power. It is currently sitting in committee, and hopefully, New Yorkers will see it die there. Assembly Bill A416 is scheduled for the 2021-22 legislative session. It amends the public health law to give the governor additional powers after they declare a state of health emergency due to an epidemic. I guess that means now.
The additions to the law allow the governor, after consulting with the health commissioner, to order the removal or detention of groups or individuals deemed to be a suspected or actual case, contact, or carrier of a contagious disease that, in the governor’s opinion, poses a significant threat to public health. The governor or his delegees in the state’s public health apparatus may order the removal or detention. They only need to identify individuals and groups by a reasonably specific description.
Individuals could be detained until the health department determines they are no longer contagious or not infected. The good news is you can only be detained for three business days before having an opportunity to be heard. In other words, the Assembly is about to make it easier to detain someone suspected of having COVID-19 than someone who is having an obvious mental health crisis.
The good news is that the bill requires an individual’s medical needs and condition to be assessed regularly and they must be detained in a manner that includes isolation and infection control procedures. So that you know, prisons fit that bill. Yet New York has released thousands of inmates under the pretext of COVID-19. So detaining a few contrary citizens makes complete sense in this environment. Nothing to see here, right? Let’s look at the groups that are suing Governor Cuomo and the tactics he has used to quell dissent against his decrees.
Let’s begin with communities of faith. They were some of the first to defy the governor, and he was not pleased. Cuomo was particularly harsh with the Orthodox Jewish community. He was hands-off when Mayor Bill de Blasio had officers weld the gate shut to a park where parents took their children to play. Cuomo also threatened to close churches and synagogues if they did not follow his arbitrary rules:
“We know religious institutions have been a problem,” he argued, pointing to a screen showing pictures of Christian and Jewish gatherings. “You don’t see masks. And you see clear violations of social distancing.”
“If you do not agree to follow the rules, then we will close the institutions down. I am prepared to do that,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo’s rules were so arbitrary that the Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision a temporary ruling that halted an executive order relating to houses of worship. The majority agreed with the plaintiffs that the order’s restrictions were singling out houses of worship in a likely violation of the First Amendment. The hypocrisy was there for all to see during summer riots when neither Cuomo nor de Blasio moved to stop them or enforce their own rules against large gatherings.
Small businesses did not escape the governor’s ire, either. He proudly announces on his website that as of September 18, 2020, 201 businesses had their liquor licenses suspended for violating his regulations. At that time, over 1,084 charges had been filed against operators, and a multi-agency task force was running around looking for violations. Transmission at indoor restaurants and bars in New York City was found to be about 1.4% of all cases. Cuomo himself reported 66% of new patients came from isolation at home during the height of the pandemic.
The self-appointed emperor really has no clothes on that one, but he felt emboldened to destroy businesses anyway. In one case, an establishment created a satirical menu based on Cuomo’s pronouncements about exactly what kind of food needed to be served for an alcoholic beverage to be ordered. It made the news, and the owners found themselves with a liquor license suspension, despite endeavoring to follow the rules.
Restaurant owners from all over the state are suing the governor. According to one group of plaintiffs, a judge is telling the state to reach a compromise for bars and restaurants or provide scientific evidence that supports the restrictions. Cuomo’s office is dismissing these lawsuits as frivolous. They might want to check out their own regulations.
But sure, let’s give Andrew Cuomo even more power. It’s clear who he finds problematic in his terrible management of the pandemic to date. It is doubtful that any church or restaurant would come close to matching his death toll as the result of his disastrous nursing home policy. But you can almost be sure about who he would target.