ALBANY, NY – Democrats in the New York Legislature took their most concrete action on Friday against increasingly besieged Governor Andrew Cuomo by passing a bill that places limits on his powers to ‘king-type emergency as they get more and more frustrated with the chef for partying them.
Republicans weren’t convinced this bill was really doing much. But as allegations against the three-term governor continue to snowball, the list of Democrats hinting at tougher measures against Cuomo continued to grow in the hours leading up to the vote, which had been in the works for some time. weeks.
The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday night that the Cuomo administration rewrote a July State Department of Health report to cover up the true death toll from the pandemic in long-term care facilities duration, contradicting public statements made in recent weeks by the governor’s allies. The new revelations came after a week in which Cuomo faced numerous allegations of sexual misconduct and issued a rare public apology for his behavior.
Democratic lawmakers are now considering further actions against Cuomo.
“We prevented the governor from issuing further directives. … But as we found out, this is absolutely something we need to get to the bottom of, ”Senator Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx) said in an interview. “We can’t have – whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, or whatever – a selective selection of what information you want to share with the public and the legislature to make your boss look better.”
After months of refusing to act on GOP demands to subpoena the Cuomo administration over its retirement home decisions, Democrats have signaled a change in strategy. state Senate Speaker for Government Operations James Skoufis (D-Orange) – who previously threatened to subpoena the administration for data on nursing home deaths, but never acted on – said Friday that he was now open to the idea.
Skoufis said in a statement that State Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker was not entirely truthful when he testified under oath at an August 2020 monitoring hearing into the deaths in nursing homes.
“In light of the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times reports last night, it’s clear that at a minimum, he hasn’t been honest and upfront with the Legislature,” Skoufis said. “I agree to go ahead with a hearing and exercise the oversight power of the Senate Inquiry Committee.”
The emergency powers bill that advanced on Friday came almost a year to the day after Cuomo passed legislation expanding his ability to respond to the state’s coronavirus outbreak. Governors have always had the power to suspend laws during crises; Cuomo has since had the power to unilaterally enact laws by decree.
The Legislative Democrats’ bill removes this power. But he leaves the executive actions currently on the books intact – including those imposing a mask mandate and setting capacity limits – and lets the governor adjust and expand them. And while powers were originally scheduled to expire at the end of April, the new bill allows orders to remain on the books indefinitely.
The Senate passed the party lines bill mid-afternoon Friday. The Assembly did the same later in the day.
In debates in both chambers, Democrats argued the changes put significant control over the governor, while Republicans assaulted them for not going far enough.
The “bill does not in any way revoke these powers in one form or another,” said Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island), who suggested a link between the emergency powers and the scandals that surround the governor.
“History is as old as humanity itself; we all know it: absolute power, ”he said. “You know the end. We attended the end. History repeats itself right here in New York. A lot of bad things happen when you empower one man.
“It’s either a deal with the governor or it’s the worst bill I’ve ever seen,” Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt told a press conference after the session.
Cuomo was not involved in the negotiations. But he announced Wednesday that he had “worked with the Legislature” to reach agreement on the bill, giving many Republicans fodder to argue that the measure was not a very serious blow to the bill. the governor.
“To be clear, the governor lied. There was no agreement between the Houses of the Legislative Assembly and the Governor on this bill, ”said Deputy Leader of the Senate, Mike Gianaris.
Gianaris and an overwhelming majority of Democrats argued that the bill was far more responsible than the GOP’s proposals to simply end all emergency powers and remove Cuomo’s mandates from the books.
“Maybe my colleague would just prefer that all of this go away and we just become Texas,” he said, referring to the decision this week by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to lift all restrictions on it. ‘State against coronaviruses.
Crystal Peoples-Stokes, the majority leader in the Assembly, offered a similar defense of the Democrats’ decision to leave executive branch intact: “In the past seven days an average of 111 people have died,” a- she declared.
And Peoples-Stokes, the second-highest official in the chamber who would launch any impeachment hearing against Cuomo, offered some sort of defense for the governor – an indication that the Legislature is not ready for all-out war.
“I know people have issues with the governor, his personal conduct, the things he’s been accused of doing, but the people are the judge and the jury. … Let them be the authority on how he did his job, ”she said. “When I listen to my constituents… they still don’t think this governor did a bad job.
“Now people don’t like what happened in the nursing homes, mind you, they don’t like the numbers being rigged, but at the end of the day they think the reason our numbers are so low is because of the things he does, ”she added.
But even though most lawmakers aren’t eager to take the ultimate step, Assembly Member Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) has suggested there may still be more energy for the Legislature to continue. to assert itself.
“For decades we have seen executive power grow every year. Every year, governors can take the power they had last year and harness it for new power, ”Gottfried said in an interview before the vote. “I think you’re starting to see climbing in the Legislature, wanting to push back. And I think it’s going to grow and it can help shake things up.