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Deal Reached To Roll Back Cuomo's Emergency Powers

NYS Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie speaks to reporters on Sheldon Silver's sentencing.
Karen Dewitt
NYS Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie speaks to reporters on Sheldon Silver's sentencing.

New York legislative leaders have announced agreement on a bill to curb Governor Andrew Cuomo’s emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The measure comes as the Democrat is embroiled in scandals over his nursing home policies during the pandemic and accusations of sexually harassing former staffers.Nearly one year ago, as the first cases of COVID were discovered in New York, the Democratic-led legislature granted Cuomo extraordinary powers that go beyond the scope of what a governor already holds under state law in times of emergency. They have included the power to shut down and open up businesses and schools, and determine who gets vaccines.

But after a report by the state’s Attorney General found the governor and his aides undercounted the number of nursing home deaths from the disease and withheld those numbers for months, Democrats in the Senate and Assembly felt the management of the pandemic needed more oversight.

In statements, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins did not mention any of the controversies, but said they feel it’s time to return to a more regular order of government, and that the legislature needs to re-impose oversight of the governor’s decisions.

“The public deserves to have checks and balances,” Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins said.

“These temporary emergency powers were granted as New York was devastated by a virus we knew nothing about,” Speaker Heastie said. “Now it is time for our government to return to regular order.” 

Once the bill is approved, as early as next Monday, the emergency powers will no longer be in effect, although some directives, including vaccine procedures and the requirement to wear masks, will remain in effect for another 30 days.

After that, the governor will have to go through a process that includes notifying relevant Assembly and Senate chairs of his decisions, as well as the legislative leaders. All of the directives will be have to be posted on a website with health and safety reasons to justify why the decisions were made. Comments from lawmakers and local government leaders effected by the decisions will also be included.

The measure also gives the legislature the power to, in the future, repeal a declared state of emergency by a joint resolution of both houses.

Republicans in the legislature, who were the first to back stripping Cuomo of the emergency powers, say the agreement is too little, too late. Senate GOP Minority Leader Robert Ortt, in a statement, called it a “bogus backroom deal.”

Governor Cuomo did not immediately comment.  

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.