By BRETT ROWLAND
THE CENTER SQUARE REGIONAL EDITOR
(The Center Square) – Gun violence, an increasing problem, is one of five states of emergency most New Yorkers have been living under for months — and in some cases more than a year.
Others statewide are for COVID-19, a health-care staffing shortage and monkeypox. The fifth is local to the five counties of New York City for an ongoing staffing shortage at Rikers Island Correctional Center.
States of emergency in New York have historically been declared for short-term emergencies such as natural disasters. That changed during the COVID-19 pandemic as governors across the country invoked emergency powers to respond to the pandemic.
“New York is overusing the concept of the state of emergency,” said Marc Joffe, a senior policy analyst at the Reason Foundation.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office did not respond to questions from The Center Square about her multiple states of emergency or the repeated use of states of emergency for matters other than natural disasters. Her office also did not respond to questions about the effectiveness of such orders.
Mr. Joffe said such states of emergency should be confirmed by the legislatures and that governors shouldn’t be allowed to perpetually have states of emergency without such confirmation.
“You don’t want to have arbitrary executive power,” he said. “We have divided government in the United States and in individual states for a reason, which is to protect individual rights and to prevent despotism. So we should continue to rely on institutions that continue to protect our divided power within the government.”
The executive violence order for gun violence, signed July 6, 2021, by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, gives the governor the authority to “temporarily suspend or modify any statute, local law, ordinance, order, rule or regulation, or parts thereof, during a state disaster emergency, if compliance with such would prevent, hinder or delay action necessary to cope with the disaster emergency.”
The Empire State was the first to enact such an emergency. Gov. Hochul, formerly the lieutenant governor who succeeded Cuomo when he resigned last August in disgrace for personal missteps, has extended the measure multiple times.
When he signed it, Mr. Cuomo said gun violence was the leading cause of premature death in the U.S. and that those gun injuries annually cost $280 billion in health care and societal costs. He also noted in his emergency order that gun violence was up 48% in New York City, 22% in Albany, 88% in Buffalo and 95% in Rochester. The emergency order further said, “At least 50% of homicides and 55% of nonfatal shootings involve people associated with gangs or more loosely-affiliated ‘street groups.'”
The state of emergency for COVID-19 has been in place since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. The most recent continuation was scheduled to end Aug. 13.
Aug. 28 is the sunset for two other executive orders, including declaration of a shortage of health-care staffing. The order notes that “severe understaffing in hospitals and other health-care facilities is expected to continue to affect the ability to provide critical care and to adequately serve vulnerable populations.”
The other expiring in two weeks is for monkeypox. This order noted “New York is now experiencing one of the highest rates of transmission in the country, with 1,383 cases reported in New York State as of July 29, 2022.” Population is 20.2 million, according to the 2020 census; that comes to less than seven one-thousandths of 1%.
The Rikers order, which expires Sept. 2, notes “conditions in the facilities are expected to continue to create an unsafe, life-threatening environment for both the inmates and the staff.” This state is limited to the counties of the Bronx, Kings, New York, Richmond and Queens.