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Tweak Of Cuomo’s Executive Power Passes Legislature

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

The beauty of legislation to change Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive authority is in the eye of the beholder.

Democrats say they have revoked Cuomo’s authority to issue new directives while allowing those that are now enforced and that pertain to preserving public health to continue under significantly greater legislative oversight. Republicans say that by removing the April 30 end date and tying the state’s emergency declaration to the federal government, Cuomo could have broad powers with little legislative feedback months into the future.

“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.

“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,” Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said. “This legislation creates a system with increased input while at the same time ensuring New Yorkers continue to be protected.”

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.”

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