New York state lawmakers on Friday moved to strip Gov. Andrew Cuomo of temporary emergency powers he was granted last year to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.
The state Senate, in a 43-20 vote, approved the bill, which would revoke Cuomo’s power to issue new orders related to coronavirus, while allowing current orders to remain in effect, albeit with great legislative oversight.
The bill now will be considered by the Assembly, which is expected to pass it.
The effort came as the Democratic governor dealt with two major scandals: a cover-up of Covid nursing home death data by Cuomo’s administration and accusations by three women that he sexually harassed them.
NBC New York reported earlier this week that the Democratic leaders of the state Senate and Assembly had reached a deal to revoke Cuomo’s emergency powers that would allow issues such as Covid lockdowns to be determined by local authorities.
Cuomo has suggested he is willing to sign the bill.
“I think everyone understands where we were back in March and where we are now. We certainly see the need for a quick response but also want to move toward a system of increased oversight and review. The public deserves to have checks and balances,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Westchester County.
“This legislation creates a system with increased input while at the same time ensuring New Yorkers continue to be protected,” Stewart-Cousins said.
Cuomo has issued nearly 100 orders related to the coronavirus pandemic, according to debate in the Senate on Friday morning.
Sen. Andrew Lanza, R-Staten Island, on Friday complained that the bill would not prevent Cuomo from acting unilaterally and continuing directives he has issued under the emergency powers authorization.
Lanza, who said he would vote against the bill for that reason, blasted “one-man rule” and the effects from “when you have one man have absolute power over your lives” since last March.
“If I would have told anyone two years ago that we were going to stand by and let a governor to tell student athletes that they couldn’t play” or tell students they could not put on a play “people would say, you’re crazy, no way, no how is that happening,” Lanza said.
Still, the move to strip Cuomo’s powers underscore what has been a growing rift between the governor and lawmakers from his own party.
Cuomo for years has been able to enforce his political will with less effective pushback from the Senate and Assembly than his predecessors faced.
On Thursday night, The New York Times reported that top aides to Cuomo last June rewrote a state Health Department report to take out the fact that more than 9,000 nursing home residents as of that month had died of the coronavirus. The move came as Cuomo was starting to write a book about what at the time was his widely praised handling of the pandemic.
The Times report contradicts the recent claim by Cuomo’s aides that the death data was suppressed to keep the information from being used as a political weapon by the Justice Department, which at the time was under the control of Attorney General William Barr, a loyal ally of then-President Donald Trump. The Justice Department’s query for the data, however, came months after the Cuomo aides removed it.
The suppression of the nursing home data has perplexed many because it did not change, in any way, the official death tally for Covid in New York. Instead, the move undercounted deaths related to nursing homes while reporting those deaths elsewhere.
“Not only did they withhold the information, they changed the information,” Lanza said Friday.
“A lot of bad things happen when you give power to one man,” he said.
The governor earlier this week refused to resign over claims by two former aides and a woman who worked in the Obama White House that he sexually harassed them.
But the embattled Democrat said in his first public comments on the women’s allegations, “I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional.”
Both the nursing home data suppression and the women’s allegations are under investigation.
This is breaking news. Check back for updates.