14 state senators call for Cuomo to lose emergency powers over nursing home report

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NEW YORK — Fourteen New York state senators are calling for a repeal of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s emergency powers related to the COVID-19 pandemic enacted just under one year ago in light of a recent report alleging the administration of covering up the full extent of nursing home-related deaths.

The report, released by the New York Post Thursday, said one of Cuomo’s top aides privately apologized to Democratic lawmakers during a phone call for allegedly withholding the state’s nursing home death toll from COVID-19.

The report claims Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said they “froze” out of fear that the true numbers would be “used against them” by federal prosecutors.

Friday, New York State Sens. Alessandra Biaggi, Jabari Brisport, Samra Brouk, Jeremy Cooney, Andrew Gounardes, Robert Jackson, John C. Liu, John Mannion, Rachel May, Elijah Reichlin-Melnick, Gustavo Rivera, Julia Salazar, James Sanders, and James Skoufis called on legislators to revoke emergency powers given to the governor in the pandemic’s early days.

“Without exception, the New York State Constitution calls for the Legislature to govern as a co-equal branch of government. While COVID-19 has tested the limits of our people and state — and, early during the pandemic, required the government to restructure decision making to render rapid, necessary public health judgments — it is clear that the expanded emergency powers granted to the governor are no longer appropriate,” the group said. “While the executive’s authority to issue directives is due to expire on April 30, we urge the Senate to advance and adopt a repeal as expeditiously as possible.”

On March 3, legislation was passed to significantly expand the governor’s executive powers under an emergency declaration in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everyone involved has to be held accountable, investigated and prosecuted if necessary,” said Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt.

Orrt is calling for a full investigation into the Cuomo administration’s handling on COVID-19 nursing home policies and data. On Wednesday, administration officials held a meeting on the issue with Democrat committee chairs.

“Basically, we froze,” DeRosa told lawmakers on that call. “Because then we were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice, or what we give to you guys [state lawmakers], what we start saying was going to be used against us, while we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation.”

DeRosa released a statement Friday morning in response to the report:

“I was explaining that when we received the DOJ inquiry, we needed to temporarily set aside the Legislature’s request to deal with the federal request first. We informed the houses of this at the time. We were comprehensive and transparent in our responses to the DOJ, and then had to immediately focus our resources on the second wave and vaccine rollout. As I said on a call with legislators, we could not fulfill their request as quickly as anyone would have liked. But we are committed to being better partners going forward as we share the same goal of keeping New Yorkers as healthy as possible during the pandemic.” -Melissa DeRosa

The Post report comes just weeks after Attorney General Letitia James said New York undercounted coronavirus-related deaths at nursing homes by as much as 50%.

James had, for months, been examining discrepancies between the number of deaths being reported by the state’s Department of Health, and the number of deaths reported by the homes themselves.

Part of the gap alleged by the attorney general is explained by a decision by New York’s health agency to exclude from its count the number of nursing home patients who die after being transferred to hospitals. Hospital and nursing home officials say the state has ready access to that figure.

Health Commissioner Howard Zucker previously said in a statement that he took issue with the word undercount, insisting that deaths were calculated based on where the individual died, not where they contracted the virus — meaning those that died at a hospital that came from a nursing home were not counted as a nursing home death, but instead a hospital death.

Cuomo was one of several governors from both parties in Washington Friday to meet with President Joe Biden as part of a White House push to give financial relief from the coronavirus pandemic to state and local governments.

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