In the last week of March, COVID-19 stopped the whole Empire State on a dime.
Over days, even hours, private industry, and the state government grappled with decisions that typically take months to years of consideration. On March 22nd, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s statewide PAUSE order (Policies Assure Uniform Safety for Everyone) shut the doors to all but the State’s essential businesses. That order, which is still in effect, will not be lifted until at least May 15th.
While PAUSE’s social distancing goals have been necessary and laudable, the policy had unintended consequences. No one had seen anything like PAUSE before. The State knew it would have to hone the policy on the fly. Within days, an incredible 30,000+ businesses got in line for an exemption.
Among PAUSE’s consequences were the cessation of all auto sales and leases, with minimal exceptions. While repair and body shops were deemed essential, no one could buy a car, even while public officials were actively discouraging people from using public transportation. And while a car dealer could sell a car to a hospital or police department, it was barred from selling a new car to a nurse, doctor, or police officer individually, even if their vehicle broke down.
One of Shenker, Russo & Clark’s (SRC) clients is the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association (GNYADA), a not-for-profit trade association representing nearly 400 franchised new vehicle dealers in the downstate region of New York. With showrooms shuttered overnight, GNYADA members knew the State needed a more fine-tuned policy. After all, how could you still buy an ice cream cone, but not a new car so you could drive to the doctor, pharmacy, or grocery store? What were you to do if your car broke down? And what if your lease expired?
These issues needed a resolution. And this is where SRC took action.
In just days, SRC’s team of lobbyists connected with key state officials to raise dealers’ concerns and their need for an exemption. SRC took the lead in drafting correspondence to the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles and an exemption to PAUSE for car dealers and communicating with the Governor’s Office. SRC also worked with lobbyists for other trade associations to make the case to Empire State Development, the State’s economic development agency, which would issue exemptions and guidance on the PAUSE order.
The result: the State granted dealers a PAUSE exemption to sell vehicles remotely, and to deliver them by appointment. The policy change affected thousands of vehicle dealers across the State, including about 1,000 new motor vehicle dealers.
SRC later helped draft extensive dealer best practices on how to follow the State’s public health requirements on social distancing and facility cleaning.
This sequence might seem obvious, and the results expected. But no government operates well in a vacuum. Policymakers’ plates are often full and their days consumed by myriad problems of the same sort. These times are undoubtedly unique, but our government’s approach is notably consistent. Public officials rely heavily on people like the SRC team – knowledgeable and trusted for years – to sort through the most pressing problems and craft responsible policies.
If anything, last week just showed how fast we do the job.