Democrats in the New York State Senate are advancing plans to strip Gov. Andrew Cuomo of unilateral emergency powers granted during the pandemic amid stirring allegations that he intentionally withheld critical data on virus-related deaths from the Legislature.
The New York Times first reported the development, which follows an earlier revelation that the FBI and the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York had opened an inquiry into the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic.
Cuomo had for months been lauded as a well-respected authority on the pandemic into the summer last year, as the number of new cases fell dramatically into the warmer months. But almost a year into the pandemic, much of the climate of praise he once enjoyed has turned cold.
The call to limit his powers, which had been under discussion earlier this year, came after further reporting late last month from the state attorney general, Letitia James, who suggested there had been a major undercount of the toll last spring.
The official count of nursing homes and long-term care facilities resident deaths has almost doubled from roughly 8,500 to more than 15,000. More than 45,000 coronavirus-related deaths have been recorded across the state since last year.
Fourteen Senate Democrats since then have signed onto a Feb. 12 statement saying that “it is clear that the expanded emergency powers granted to the governor are no longer appropriate.”
Senate leaders now intend to pass a bill aimed at reining in the governor’s powers and establishing a 10-person commission, made up of members of the Assembly and Senate, to evaluate any of Cuomo’s future pandemic-related directives or suspensions of laws.
It is still unclear if the Democrat-dominated State Assembly will follow the Senate’s lead. According to the Times, no decision was made when Assembly Democrats discussed on Friday whether to extend or revoke Cuomo’s powers, which could also be allowed to expire on April 30.
The governor has defended the use of his emergency powers, arguing it had “nothing to do with nursing homes,” and noting that the Legislature already has the authority to reverse any of the governor’s executive orders which he said it has not done to date.