New York legislature strips scandal-scarred Cuomo of emergency powers

This composite photo shows Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers)
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

The state Senate and Assembly are putting Governor Andrew Cuomo on a strict power diet with plans to strip the emergency authority he has held over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic as he faces three separate scandals involving the nursing home death data reports and allegations of sexual harassment.

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said emergency health directives would remain in place, as were granted to Cuomo at the outset of the crisis, while the authority to place further directives would be repealed through state law.

“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. Our proposal would create a system with increased input while at the same time ensuring New Yorkers continue to be protected,” Stewart-Cousins said.

While the timing would suggest that the move had more to do with the scandals Cuomo has been inundated by in recent weeks, Heastie and Stewart-Cousin made no mention of the governor’s alleged misconduct with former female staffers nor the issue of underreported nursing home deaths.

In fact, Heastie simply stated that the necessity for such emergency powers has passed.

A small group picketed outside Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Midtown office on March 2, 2021, calling for his resignation amid the sexual harassment and nursing home scandals surrounding him.Photo by Dean Moses

“A year into the pandemic, and as New Yorkers receive the vaccine, the temporary emergency powers have served their purpose – it is time for them to be repealed,” Heastie said. “These temporary emergency powers were granted as New York was devastated by a virus we knew nothing about. Now it is time for our government to return to regular order.”

The original motion by the legislature to grant the governor broad powers to issue executive orders was set to expire on April 30. The bill to repeal the powers, if passed will be effective immediately.

Any actions Cuomo may wish to take in terms of public health in the ongoing pandemic will remain.

Standing directives meant to slow the spread of COVID-19, manage the vaccination effort or require face coverings will remain in effect for an additional 30 days after the bill passes as long as the governor notifies relevant committee chairs as well as Heastie and Stewart-Cousins.

If Cuomo wishes to extend a directive not explicitly related to the pandemic beyond the first 30 days. Some orders will be eligible to be modified regarding the number of individuals, businesses, or entities impacted by a directive, but not if the governor does not respond to comments from committee chairs.

Through the bill proposed by the legislature, lawmakers will be able to repeal a declared state of emergency by joint resolution.