New York lawmakers on Friday took the first step toward repealing pandemic-era emergency powers afforded to scandal-plagued Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The Senate passed a bill 43-20 to revoke temporary powers given to Cuomo in March that allowed him to supersede the legislature, as well as local laws, to issue hundreds of sweeping emergency directives on everything from closing businesses and schools to mandating the use of masks. The Assembly is expected to pass a similar bill Friday, sending the legislation to the governor, who is expected to sign the measure after saying he helped negotiate it.
The rebuke from lawmakers, where Democrats hold a supermajority in both chambers, follows public outcry over sexual-harassment claims by three women against Cuomo and allegations that his administration deliberately covered up nursing-home deaths in the state.
A growing list of state lawmakers, including in his own Democratic party, have called for Cuomo’s resignation. The third-term governor on Wednesday apologized for making women feel “uncomfortable,” but refused to step down.
Earlier this week, Cuomo said he had brokered a deal with lawmakers to focus just on curbing new directives. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a fellow Democrat, disputed Cuomo’s account and said lawmakers didn’t work with the governor to cut a deal.
Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, during a floor vote to revoke Cuomo’s executive powers, said the governor lied to the public and was not involved in negotiations. Asked if he was bothered by the lie, Gianaris said: “There is so much that this governor has done that I’m bothered by.”
Asked if he trusts the governor, Gianaris said, “I haven’t trusted this governor in a long time.”
Under the new measure, the governor cannot issue any new orders. However, directives already in place can stand and even be altered with approval by the legislature.
The legislation, sponsored by Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, would require Cuomo to issue a notice five days before extending or modifying any directives. The Legislature, or local municipality if applicable, would review the order. The Legislature can terminate the directives at any time and no directive could be acted on unless the governor has responded to all comments from relevant legislative committee chairs, or municipal entities, according to the bill.
Currently, only the governor may declare and end a state of emergency.
“For the first time ever, we are adding a power for the Legislature to nullify a state of emergency,” Gianaris said.
The bill also would require Cuomo to publicly post all information justifying emergency directives online in a searchable format.
But Republican lawmakers argued that the bill doesn’t fully revoke Cuomo’s powers, and it allows previous directives to continue. They also said the measure should have an expiration date.
“Let’s be clear about what this bill actually does and stop putting lipstick on a pig,” Republican Assemblyman Michael Lawler said on the floor.
Sen. Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island Republican, said his no vote was “not about Andrew Cuomo the person.”
“This is about the Senate and the Assembly having a say with respect to what happens with their constituents back home,” he said. “One-party rule is one thing. One-man rule is entirely another.”
The emergency powers were set to expire on April 30, but as the pandemic wore on, lawmakers bristled at Cuomo’s growing authority. Republicans introduced a number of measures to strip Cuomo’s emergency powers, but they had failed to take hold with enough of the Democrat-controlled Legislature. Lawmakers worried that revoking his authority would affect the state’s ability to quickly respond to the health crisis.
Democrats’ united push to revoke Cuomo’s powers highlights growing tension against the governor among members of his own party. The move comes just four weeks until the state budget deadline, threatening to impede Cuomo’s agenda.
Calls to pull back Cuomo’s powers increased after a Jan. 28 report from Attorney General Letitia James said that more nursing-home residents died from the virus than the state Health Department had reported. A top Cuomo aide later admitted that the state withheld the data from state lawmakers while it was being investigated by the federal government. On Thursday, top advisers to the governor confirmed they deliberately pushed state health officials to alter a public report with data showing that more nursing-home residents died from Covid than the administration had acknowledged.
“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,” state Health Department spokesperson Gary Holmes, said in a statement. “DOH was comfortable with the final report.”
On Thursday, one of the governor’s accusers, former aide Charlotte Bennett, said in an interview with CBS News that the governor propositioned her and asked if a past sexual trauma continued to affect her intimate relationships, an exchange that left her “terrified.”
The uproar over the various allegations has taken a toll. Cuomo’s approval rating dropped to 45% in a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday, from 72% in May 2020. While 59% say he should not seek a fourth term as governor, 55% of New York voters say Cuomo should not resign, as numerous Democrats in the Legislature have called on him to do.
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