NY lawmakers modify Cuomo’s emergency COVID-19 powers amid sexual harassment allegations

In this Nov. 25, 2020, photo provided by the Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo, Gov. Cuomo speaks in Rochester, N.Y. (Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

NEW YORK – New York legislative leaders voted to modify Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s emergency COVID-19 powers Friday amid sexual harassment allegations and the ongoing nursing home scandal.

Under the new legislation, Cuomo will be blocked from issuing new directives. However, he has the ability to make modifications and extensions to the hundreds of orders he issued this year current directives, and those changes need to be sent to committee chairs, and the leadership of the chambers at least five days ahead of time with an explanation, and the chance for them to give feedback.  

The state senate voted 43-20 to curb Cuomo’s emergency pandemic power Friday afternoon. The state assembly followed up with a 107-43 vote just hours later, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie confirmed in a statement.

“A year ago, as New York was being ravaged by COVID-19, we passed legislation to give the governor temporary emergency powers that would allow the state to nimbly react to a constantly evolving, deadly situation,” said Heastie. “These temporary emergency powers were always meant to be that — temporary. By immediately repealing the temporary emergency powers, allowing no new directives to be issued and bringing transparency and oversight to the standing directives, we can establish better communication and collaboration with our local communities and help preserve the health and wellbeing of New Yorkers as we see the light at the end of the tunnel of this devastating and deadly healthcare crisis.”

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said it was time to bring back checks and balances over the governor’s pandemic actions.

“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,” Stewart-Cousins said.

The governor was granted emergency powers last year when the pandemic first hit the state. 

Republicans and some Democrats in the state have pushed for a total revocation of the governor’s emergency powers, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. 

The city’s mayor previously called on the state legislature to revoke Cuomo’s emergency powers that overrule local control amid recent sexual harassment allegations against him and the ongoing nursing home death scandal. 

De Blasio has previously said if local municipalities had control, he would work to expand the eligibility groups of those who can get vaccinated and allocate the right amount of supply for the city. 

Amid calls for his resignation in the wake of sexual harassment allegations, reports of bullying and undercounting COVID-19 deaths connected to nursing homes, Gov. Cuomo issued an apology during a coronavirus briefing Wednesday, but said he would not resign.

Reports published Thursday night from the Wall Street Journal and New York Times said top aides to Cuomo withheld data pertaining to nursing home deaths over a months-long process to soften the numbers.

The reports allege advisers in Albany worked to rewrite a July report compiled by state health officials, and in doing so, worked to hide how many nursing home residents died in the pandemic.

Despite his public apology, a growing number of New Yorkers believe the allegations, according to results of an Emerson College/PIX11/NewsNation poll.

New Yorkers were evenly split on how they felt about the governor’s apology, according to the poll, conducted on March 3 and 4. During the governor’s first live, in-person public statement, he apologized for making anyone uncomfortable and championed a woman’s right to come forward while simultaneously denying claims of inappropriate touching.

Of the 800 New Yorkers surveyed, 41% believed he meant his apology, and 41% believed he didn’t. Meanwhile, 18% of respondents were not aware of the apology.

Contributed reporting by PIX11 News’ sister station News10.

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