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UPDATE: Legislature OKs Limits To Cuomo’s Powers

Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, speaks on the Assembly floor regarding legislation to tweak Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive authority.

ALBANY — The New York Legislature has passed a bill to limit Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s emergency powers at a time when he’s facing sexual harassment allegations and scrutiny over his administration’s reporting of deadly COVID-19 outbreaks at nursing homes.

Democrats who have expressed disappointment in the governor in recent days have trumpeted the bill as a “repeal” of Cuomo’s emergency powers. Those powers are set to sunset at the end of April when the state of emergency ends, unless the Legislature acts to end it sooner.

The Senate and Assembly passed the bill in party-line votes of 43 to 20 and 107 to 43. It has been sent to the governor, who has said he supports it.

Any governor in New York has the power to suspend laws in a state of emergency, but last spring, lawmakers approved Cuomo’s request for additional authority to pass sweeping mandates unilaterally. Republicans have long opposed the additional powers.

Under the new legislation, the governor would no longer have the power to pass new mandates.

But it would allow the governor to extend or amend dozens of his ongoing COVID-19 mandates, which include limits for restaurant capacity, eligibility rules for vaccinations, the number of vaccine locations, gathering limits, social distancing rules, testing, quarantine rules and air quality or filtration requirements.

His power to extend or amend the mandates would expire once the state of emergency is lifted in April, or sooner if the Legislature chose to do so.

“It’s clear that many of us agree on many issues. As the title of this bill states, ‘As it relates to the termination of certain executive powers by the legislature,'” said Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, in comments on the Assembly floor. “Those certain powers are the power of the executive to issue new directives. I can safely say that all of my Republican colleagues and undoubtedly most of my Democratic colleagues agree with the desire to terminate the power of the executive to issue new directives. But the title could just as equally and accurately have said relates to the continuation and extension of certain executive powers by the legislature because that is also true in this bill.”

Goodell voted against the bill, as did Assemblyman Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, and Senator George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay. Cuomo must justify to the Legislature the extension or modification of any existing directives every 30 days and the Legislature has the ability to undo the state of emergency. Democrats hailed the legislation as giving the state Legislature a voice in how the state is handling the pandemic.

Borrello said the legislation is a “fraud.” Rather than repeal Cuomo’s power, Borrello said Cuomo is still allowed to exercise authority over nearly 100 executive orders he has issued over the past year, including the ability to extend, amend or even expand them with little legislative oversight. Those orders include orders overseeing restaurant operation and the size of gatherings. That authority was extended indefinitely, Borrello said, by the bill as it removed the April 30 sunset provision that was in the original measure granting emergency powers.

Republicans in the Assembly tried to attach a hostile amendment to the repeal bill that would have stripped all of the governor’s executive authority, but the amendment was defeated. Republicans in the state Senate introduced similar amendments several times.

“While they repeatedly rejected our Conference’s efforts to end the emergency powers with a clean repeal of his authority, we still had a light at the end of the tunnel with the April 30 sunset date in the original legislation. By removing that sunset date, that hope has been extinguished,” Borrello said. “Instead, legislative leaders have enabled this ethically compromised Governor, who has lost the confidence of New Yorkers and the respect of his peers, to continue exerting his will without the checks and balances that our current circumstances demand. A year ago, when I voted against the sweeping, unilateral authority granted to this governor, I stated that any legislature willing to cede this much power to the executive will be reluctant to take it away. Today’s shameful action proves that to be true.”

The vote also came after the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal reported members of Cuomo’s COVID-19 task force altered a state Health Department report to omit the full number of nursing home patients killed by the coronavirus. State officials insisted Thursday that the edits were made because of concerns about accuracy, not to protect Cuomo’s reputation. Assemblyman Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, pointed toward the executive branch’s withholding of data as a reason to vote against the repeal bill.

“All of the executive orders issued since the emergency powers were granted will remain in place. The emergency powers which began last March also had an end date of April 30, 2021,” said Assemblyman Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda. “This legislation removes that date, which essentially extends them with no end date whatsoever. We have no reason to trust this administration or Department of Health, all of whom have lied over the entire course of this pandemic. They should never have been allowed input into this legislative process regarding executive powers.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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