New York lawmakers stripped Governor Cuomo of emergency Covid powers as sexual harassment and death-date scandals rock the state
New York State legislature passed a bill on Friday aimed at severely stripping Governor Andrew Cuomo of the temporary emergency powers he was granted last year to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
The State Assembly passed the bill 107-43 hours ahead of the Senate passing the legislation by 43-30 votes.
The Democratic governor proposed earlier this week to sign the bill that would revoke Cuomo's power to issue new orders related to coronavirus, while the ongoing orders could remain in place, albeit with great legal scrutiny.
The attempt to curtail his power came when Cuomo was grappling with two major scandals: a cover-up of Covid care homes death dates by his administration and allegations of three women that he had sexually molested them.
"I think everyone understands where we were in March and where we are now. We certainly see the need to respond quickly, but we also want to move to a system of enhanced surveillance and verification. The public deserves checks and balances . " said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Westchester County.
"This legislation creates a system of increased input while ensuring that New Yorkers continue to be protected," said Stewart-Cousins.
Cuomo has issued nearly 100 orders related to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a debate in the Senate on Friday morning.
Senator Andrew Lanza, R-Staten Island, complained Friday that the bill would not prevent Cuomo from acting unilaterally and continuing the guidelines he put in place under the Emergency Authority Authorization.
Lanza, who said he would vote against the bill because of this, has blown the "one man rule" and the ramifications of "when you have a man, you have absolute power over your life" since last March.
"If I had told someone two years ago that we'd stand by and ask a governor to tell the athletes they can't play," or tell the students they can't play, "people would say you they're crazy, by no means, no, how does that happen? "said Lanza.
The attempt to overturn Cuomo's powers underscores the growing gap between the governor and his own party's lawmakers.
For years, Cuomo has been able to enforce his political will with less effective setbacks from the Senate and Assembly than his predecessors.
In late January, Attorney General Letitia James said the Cuomo government had fallen as much as 50% short of Covid deaths related to nursing homes.
"Many nursing home residents died of Covid-19 in hospitals after being moved from their nursing homes. This is not reflected in overall nursing home death data published [by the Department of Health]," James said at the time.
On Thursday evening, the New York Times reported that Cuomo's top aides rewritten a Department of Health report last June to highlight the fact that more than 9,000 nursing home residents had died from the coronavirus as of that month. The move came when Cuomo started writing a book about what his widely acclaimed handling of the pandemic was at the time.
The Times report contradicts recent allegations by Cuomo's aides that the death dates were suppressed to prevent the Justice Department, at the time under the control of Attorney General William Barr, a loyal ally of, from being used as a political weapon then President Donald Trump was used. However, the Justice Department's request for the data came months after Cuomo aides removed it.
The suppression of nursing home data has puzzled many because it did not alter the official death certificate for Covid in New York in any way. Instead, deaths related to nursing homes were under counted, while those deaths were reported elsewhere.
"They not only withheld the information, but also changed it," said Lanza on Friday.
"A lot of bad things happen when you give power to a man," he said.
Cuomo's special adviser Beth Garvey made an in-depth statement on the Times article on Friday afternoon, noting that there was no intention of misleading the public or legislature.
"To be clear, during the development of the July 6th DOH report, public statements were made several times during the daily briefings and in the press regarding the existence of the data, but it was noted that deaths at the facility were being counted, in which individuals died, "said Garvey.
"There have been repeated public statements confirming that out-of-facility deaths were not listed as a subset of nursing home deaths due to concerns about the potential for double counting and consistency and accuracy."
Garvey said that no governor's employee "changed" any death numbers or "changed" the dates of death.
Instead, the staff asked the Department of Health about the source of previously unpublished data "which had no clear or complete answers" and examined whether the data was "relevant to the outcome of the report."
Then Garvey said, "It was decided to use the data set reported by the place of death with first-hand knowledge of the circumstances."
Garvey said the decision "provides a greater level of convenience in terms of the" accuracy "of the data.
Cuomo refused to resign earlier this week on allegations by two former aides and a woman who worked in the Obama's White House that he sexually molested her.
However, in his first public comments on the women's allegations, he also said, "I understand now that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional."
The nursing home's death dates are the subject of a federal criminal investigation while James oversees an investigation into the women's allegations.