‘No new directives, period’: New York lawmakers vote to strip Governor Cuomo of emergency Covid powers with veto-proof majority

Legislators in New York have sent a bill to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk seeking to eliminate his “temporary” emergency pandemic powers, securing a veto-proof majority to impose stricter limits on the state government.

Both chambers of the state legislature approved the bill on Friday in a largely party-line vote, with most Republicans opposing the measure on the grounds that it does not go far enough in curbing Cuomo’s authorities. With sizable Democrat majorities in the State Assembly and Senate, however, the law passed with ease.

“Today, under this new legislation the governor will no longer be able to issue any new directives, period,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat. “In light of recent events, however, it is clear that we need to move toward a system of increased oversight, review and verification between the Legislature and the executive branch, and also limit the powers granted to the governor.”

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Though Cuomo said during a Wednesday press conference that he is not opposed to the bill, a veto-proof majority has effectively tied his hands.

Democrat Sen. Mike Gianaris, however, accused Cuomo of lying in his description of the law during the Wednesday presser, saying “There was no agreement between the House and the legislature and the governor on this bill.”

“It may surprise my colleagues or not that this governor might tell a lie, but that's in fact what happened. Why would he agree to sign it? I can speculate. I can speculate that he didn't want to be embarrassed by the fact that the Legislature was repealing his emergency powers and is trying to pretend that he had something to do with it,” Gianaris said.

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The new legislation will require Cuomo to justify any extension or modification to standing health directives every 30 days, while lawmakers must approve any new orders and will retain the right to cancel a public state of emergency issued by the New York government. The bill mirrors similar efforts in Michigan and other states, where lawmakers have taken governors to task – and to court – for retaining “temporary” pandemic powers for months on end without approval from their legislatures. 

The passage of the New York bill comes as the governor is under fire in multiple scandals, besieged by allegations of sexual harassment from three separate accusers. His government’s policies toward nursing homes amid the pandemic have also generated immense controversy, inflamed further last month after a top Cuomo aide acknowledged that the state had concealed its nursing home deaths to avoid handing a political win to the Trump administration. More than 15,000 New York nursing home residents have died of Covid-19, updated Health Department data shows.

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© Reuters / Shannon Stapleton
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