ALBANY — State senators voted Friday to pass a bill to change Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s sweeping broadened authority granted last March at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but not a straightforward repeal of the additional spending powers.
The bill passed the chamber in a 43-20 vote with all Democrats voting in favor and each Republican state senator voting against.
The measure revokes Cuomo’s authority to issue new directives. Cuomo has issued 96 executive directives since the start of the pandemic. About 60 remain in effect.
The measure authorizes the governor to extend or modify directives in effect to respond to the ongoing pandemic, but requires a five-day notice to the Legislature and local elected officials before changes take effect.
“Today, under this new legislation, the governor will no longer be able to issue any new directives, period,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said from the chamber floor at the end of Friday’s special session. “We have come a long way from where we were then because of New Yorkers’ strength and response to control this pandemic, and in light of recent events, however, it is clear that we need to move toward a system of increased oversight, review and verification between the Legislature and the executive branch and also limit the powers granted to the governor.”
Cuomo has come under fire by lawmakers, officials and activists across the nation in recent weeks, with several state Democrats calling for his resignation this week after three women publicly accused him of sexual harassment or unwanted intrusive sexual advancements. State Attorney General Letitia James is investigating the claims.
A federal investigation is ongoing into Cuomo and his administration after several reports since last month that revealed the state intentionally removed COVID-19 nursing home fatality data from the state Health Department’s self-published report last July and top aides allegedly delayed publishing public data to evade federal backlash under former President Donald Trump.
Under Friday’s measure, the Legislature can vote to terminate a state disaster emergency by concurrent resolution and a simple majority vote.
Cuomo’s additional authority will remain in effect until the federal government declares the official end of the coronavirus pandemic.
If the Legislature took no action Friday, the governor’s expanded pandemic powers were set to expire April 30.
“Our state government is at its best when the Legislature is an equal partner with the Executive Branch,” Sen. Michelle Hinchey, D-46, said on the floor Friday. “As more details on the willful mishandling of information come to light, it is clear that more transparency and accountability are immediately needed. Today, we are ensuring a system of increased oversight and input into executive action by restoring the Legislature to its rightful role as the branch of government most connected to the people of New York. I will always fight for our upstate communities to have a real seat at the table and this legislation will give us a greater voice in decision-making during this public health emergency. That’s why I am voting, with my colleagues, in favor of repeal.”
The bill also requires Cuomo to publicly respond to any comments made by legislators or local leaders about a directive if one is extended.
The governor must create a searchable database of all current executive actions on the state website to inform the public.
The Assembly continued debate and was expected to vote to pass the measure late Friday afternoon.
Republicans assert the measure does not effectively change the governor’s enhanced spending or directive decision-making because it is not a clean repeal of his broadened authority.
Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-102, blasted Democrats on Friday for lying about the measure, and said the bill is a fake repeal that is both alarming and disgusting.
“Less than 24 hours after the second victim of Gov. Cuomo’s sexual harassment went on national television with detailed and documented accounts of his perverted sexual predatory behavior, Assembly Democrats are rewarding the governor with expanded powers,” Tague said Friday. “Less than 24 hours after it was reported that the Cuomo administration intentionally and successfully altered a report on nursing home deaths last year, Assembly Democrats are rewarding the governor by extending his emergency powers indefinitely. Assembly Democrats are rewarding his abhorrent behavior and decision-making by letting him retain control of making decisions on the fate of restaurants, schools, gyms and small businesses across the state – including shutting them down. ...And as is tradition with this governor, New Yorkers got the crap end of the stick.”
Check back for more details on this developing story.