Lawmakers curb Cuomo's emergency powers; slam him over nursing home data

The New York Legislature passed a bill to limit Gov. Andrew Cuomo's emergency powers while Republicans blasted Cuomo and his top aides, including Melissa DeRosa, for reportedly altering a report from the state Health Department.

"What we know is this governor lied," GOP state Sen. Robert Ortt said at the Capitol in Albany on Friday.

Cuomo aides edited the July report so that it would not include nursing home residents who had been taken to hospitals and died in hospitals, according to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

The Cuomo administration was apparently told that nearly 10,000 people from nursing homes died from COVID-19, but the number released to the public was just over 6,400.

Report: Cuomo aides altered Health Dept. nursing home death count

All of this happened at the same time the governor was writing and promoting his book on his pandemic achievements.

On the floor of the state Senate, Sen. Daniel Stec, a Republican, asked Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Democrat, if he trusts the governor.

Gianaris answered, "I haven't trusted this governor in a long time, senator."

Cuomo's office responded with a statement that read, in part: "The out-of-facility data was omitted after DOH (the Department of Health) could not confirm it had been adequately verified." 

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Sen. Jessica Ramos of Queens said, "This governor's inability to see outside his own ego cannot continue to go unchecked." 

In an effort to keep the governor in check, Democrats in the Senate passed a bill that will limit, not revoke, Cuomo's emergency pandemic powers. 

"New Yorkers must have checks and balances," Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins said. "This legislation creates a system with increased input while at the same time ensuring New Yorkers continue to be protected."

The Senate and Assembly passed the bill in party-line votes of 43 to 20 and 107 to 43, and it will eventually head to Cuomo’s office for his consideration. The governor has said he supports the bill.

Any governor in New York has the power to suspend laws in a state of emergency, but last spring, lawmakers approved Cuomo’s request for additional authority to pass sweeping mandates unilaterally. Republicans have long opposed the additional powers.

Under the new legislation, the governor would no longer have the power to pass new mandates.

But it would allow the governor to extend or amend dozens of his ongoing COVID-19 mandates, which include limits for restaurant capacity, eligibility rules for vaccinations, the number of vaccine locations, gathering limits, social distancing rules, testing, quarantine rules and air quality or filtration requirements.

His power to extend or amend the mandates would expire once the state of emergency is lifted in April, or sooner if the Legislature chose to do so.

But Republicans are outraged the governor wasn't fully stripped of his COVID powers.

"Everything the governor has been able to do over the last year, he can continue to do, period," GOP Sen. Andrew Lanza said.

"Why are we continuing to trust this man to make decisions that are in the best interests of this state?" Sen. Anthony Palumbo, a Republican, said.

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If the governor signs the bill, he could only extend existing COVID-19 mandates for 30 days and would have to notify lawmakers five days before and offer lawmakers and local governments a chance to respond. Cuomo couldn’t extend or tweak a directive more than once unless he has "responded" to comments, though Republicans criticized the bill for leaving unclear what exactly would count as a response.

Cuomo can bypass that five-day notification requirement if he says it’s needed to avoid an "imminent threat to public health or safety." He would still have to provide some opportunity for comment.

The bill also got support from a small but growing number of left-leaning Democrats who have joined calls for Cuomo to resign.

"To be clear, this bill falls short of a full repeal of the governor's expanded powers," said Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, who said she believes it's in New Yorkers' best interest "to end the governor's ability to issue new directives."

Top Democratic leaders have stressed they want to wait for the results of the attorney general's investigation into Cuomo's harassment allegations, and whether his administration investigated sexual harassment complaints, before taking steps to hold him accountable.

With the Associated Press.