NY State Legislature Moves to Limit Cuomo’s Pandemic Powers

Friday’s vote came after a fresh report accused the New York governor recently beset by sexual harassment allegations of hiding data on nursing home Covid-19 deaths.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo rolls out his 2021 State of the State address on Jan. 13. (Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo photo/Mike Groll via Courthouse News)

ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) — Ending a week marked by growing calls for his resignation, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was in the spotlight again on Friday as state lawmakers voted to revoke emergency powers granted to him at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

About a year after voting to allow the governor to make snap decisions to keep New Yorkers safe, the New York Senate and Assembly each voted to limit those powers, making it so Cuomo has to give the Legislature at least five days’ notice before enacting emergency restrictions, during which lawmakers can weigh in on changes. 

The bill does not rescind any of Cuomo’s current directives, like a statewide mask mandate or limits on indoor dining, but it gives the Legislature power to repeal any executive order by simple majority. 

Assuming both legislative houses pass and the governor signs the bill, it will extend, until the end of the pandemic, executive powers that had been set to expire at the end of April. Importantly, however, it also gives the Legislature additional powers to end the state of emergency. 

On Wednesday, Cuomo referenced the upcoming bill in remarks to reporters, calling it an “agreement” that he had a hand in crafting.  

“On the Covid emergency powers, we worked with the legislature,” Cuomo said. “We have an agreement on a bill, where the legislature can repeal any executive order that I issue with over 50%, both houses.”

But during Friday’s vote, Republican Senator Andrew Lanza of Staten Island put the question bluntly: “Why would the governor agree to sign a bill to strip his own power?” 

Quick to offer his take was Senator Michael Gianaris, a Queens-based sponsor of the bill who is the Democratic deputy majority leader. 

“I heard the governor’s press conference, and to be clear, the governor lied,” Gianaris said. “There was no agreement between the houses of the Legislature and the governor on this bill. It may surprise my colleagues — or not — that this governor might tell a lie. But that’s in fact what happened.” 

Throughout debate before the vote on the bill, Gianaris was pressed by other Republican senators, many of whom said the bill does not go far enough in limiting Cuomo’s control.

At one point, asked if he trusts Cuomo, Gianaris replied, “I haven’t trusted this governor in a long time.” 

Friday’s vote followed new claims about the Cuomo administration’s apparent mismanagement of nursing home data about deaths from Covid-19.

Citing documents and interviews with officials, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have reported that Cuomo’s aides, including secretary to the governor Melissa DeRosa, insisted that health officials edit the report to leave out nursing home residents who had been transferred to hospitals before their deaths. 

Cuomo’s health department confirmed those reports, acknowledging that at least 15,000 long-term care residents died, a stark increase from the 8,700 it had reported as of late January. 

Health officials said Friday that they omitted the full number of nursing home patients killed by Covid-19 because they were unsure if the data was accurate. 

“While early versions of the report included out of facility deaths, the Covid task force was not satisfied that the data had been verified against hospital data and so the final report used only data for in facility deaths, which was disclosed in the report,” Department of Health spokesman Gary Holmes said.

The report had been released to quash criticism of Cuomo’s March 25 directive, advising nursing homes to admit patients who had Covid-19. Health department officials say the March decision was based on federal guidance at the time, and helped communities where hospitals were short on beds. 

Though Cuomo’s health department would determine that the policy did not play a role in spreading coronavirus, the nonprofit think tank Empire Center asserted in recent analysis that the move spurred more resident deaths.

As the months dragged on, and people like Queens Assemblyman Ron Kim started asking questions about the data, Cuomo is said to have pushed him to stay silent — including calling Kim and threatening to destroy his career. 

Kim is among those calling to oust Cuomo immediately. 

“Cuomo hid the numbers. Impeach,” Kim, a Democrat who lost an uncle in a nursing home to Covid-19, tweeted late Thursday. 

Bolstering calls for Cuomo’s impeachment or resignation is an ongoing sexual harassment investigation, announced Monday by New York Attorney General Letitia James. 

The probe comes after last weekend saw a third woman, and second former aide of Cuomo’s, come forward with allegations that the 63-year-old Democratic governor harassed her. 

Cuomo on Wednesday apologized for his behavior. “I never knew at the time I was making anyone feel uncomfortable,” he said twice. “I feel awful about it, and frankly I am embarrassed by it, and that’s not easy for me to say.” 

The governor said he would cooperate with James’ investigation, which required his approval before deputizing a private firm to conduct it — but he will neither resign nor step aside from budget negotiations. 

In addition to James’ investigation into reported sexual harassment, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, and the FBI, are reportedly investigating Cuomo’s handling of nursing home data. 

While state Democrat leaders have said they want to see full investigations before making a judgment on Cuomo’s conduct, others like Kim and fellow Democrat Alessandra Biaggi — who introduced a separate bill in February to limit Cuomo’s powers — want him out. 
Addressing Cuomo, Biaggi tweeted on Feb. 27: “You are a monster, and it is time for you to go. Now.”

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