In recent weeks, the sad story of how New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo deliberately covered up nursing home COVID-19 deaths has more fully come to light. From the time the allegations surfaced, it is evident that the disastrous decision resulted in the unnecessary deaths of thousands of seniors, which now surpasses 15,000.
Gov. Cuomo and his staff withheld data and other information from state lawmakers about his decision to return seniors who had tested positive with coronavirus to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. In recent weeks, a private conversation was leaked to the New York Post in which a top Cuomo aide confessed to covering up the actual figures and withholding the information out of concerns for the governor’s image.
This is what can happen when governors are crowned kings, as Cuomo was during the beginning of the pandemic. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, many states watched helplessly as their governors wielded broad emergency powers. Unfortunately, as in the case of Cuomo, these far-reaching emergency powers were abused. As Lord Acton warned, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Even more unfortunately, these emergency powers were granted without necessary checks and balances.
Lawmakers in the Empire State have witnessed first-hand the collateral damage unchecked power can unleash. Which is why many New York policymakers want to dethrone King Cuomo.
In the current legislative session, a series of bills have been introduced to reform the emergency powers granted to the governor in a state of emergency. Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-District 34) introduced Senate Bill 4888, “An act to amend the executive law in relation to revoking the extension of emergency powers granted to the governor related to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease 2019.” This legislation would take effect immediately, divesting Gov. Cuomo of his emergency powers. The legislation also takes steps to return power to the people during any state of emergency or disaster through means of their elected state senators and representatives, as the legislature may terminate by concurrent resolution executive orders issued at any time.
In the lower chamber, Assemblyman Andrew Goodell (R-District 150) introduced Assembly Bill 4907, which would amend the executive law by restoring the legislative checks and balances to any emergency declaration that exceeds 45 days and ensures judicial due process. The existing statue allows the governor to temporarily suspend specific provisions of any statute, law, ordinance, or agency during states of emergency if, “[c]ompliance with such provisions would prevent, hinder, or delay action necessary to come with the disaster.” Under Assembly Bill 4907, every order by the governor directing any suspension of statute should specify the individual country or counties the suspension applies to and provide a detailed explanation with the facts, circumstances, demographics, and conditions.
Furthermore, Assembly Bill 4907 would reduce the length of time for which the governor can utilize his executive power based on a state of emergency. The current statute allows for continual periods of renewal of 30 days. Under AB 4907, there would only be one period of renewal for 15 days. The bill would allow lawmakers to authorize an extension for specified counties for a period not to exceed an additional 30 days.
AB 4907 would also allow any chief executive of a country or the mayor of any city with more than one million residents to request the governor to terminate any declaration of a state of emergency. If the governor denies any such request, he or she has a 15-day period to provide the chief executive officer of the county or mayor a written explanation as to why the state of emergency must continue with detailed facts and circumstances. This statute would also allow aforementioned chief executive officer or mayor to seek judicial review on the governor’s decision to deny his or her request.
On February 12, 2021, 14 Democratic New York State Senators issued a joint statement calling for the removal of Gov. Cuomo’s emergency powers immediately. “It is clear that the expanded emergency powers granted to the Governor are no longer appropriate,” wrote the senators.
Four days later, 10 State Assembly members sent a memo to their colleagues calling for the termination of Gov. Cuomo’s emergency powers. They urged bipartisan support by calling any lack of action against Cuomo, “[c]ompliance in the obstruction of justice and conscious omission of nursing home deaths data.”
Last spring and summer, The Heartland Institute developed a set of principles that legislatures could reference when governors began abusing their newfound powers. The bills described above, as well as the actions of New York State lawmakers in recent months, are in line with Heartland’s principles, including:
- Resolutions to (or can) immediately nullify an emergency proclamation.
- Time certain duration of an emergency order (renewed by legislature).
- Pass a resolution that requires the governor to call a special session to approve of an emergency proclamation if the legislature is out of session.
- Permit an interim committee or group of legislative leaders to extend or reject emergency proclamations.
- Impose specific limits to executive authority during an emergency proclamation. (i.e., restrict the governor from unilaterally closing businesses, closing houses of worship, or shutting down freedom of the press, and the right to bear arms.)
There is a clear appetite among Empire State lawmakers to reassert their constitutional powers. Co-equal governance is a bedrock American principle. Yet, any semblance of co-equal governance has been absent in the Empire State since the pandemic. Cuomo’s reckless policies, unchecked by the legislature and courts, have led to the deaths of thousands of senior citizens. Cuomo’s actions and attempted cover up have been egregious as well.
Finally, lawmakers are standing up to him and reasserting their rightful place as a much-needed check against the executive branch. There is much, including newly surfaced accusations of sexual harassment, Gov. Cuomo should be held accountable for. Reforming New York’s emergency powers would be a good first step. Governors, even Andrew Cuomo, are not and never will be gods.
The following documents provide more information about executive authority in a state of emergency.
Testimony Before the Georgia House Judiciary Committee regarding legislative and executive authority in a state of emergency.
Cuomo has issued multiple statements in an attempt to quell the backlash and frustration of New Yorkers and lawmakers in Albany to no avail
The Heartland Institute hosted a webinar on Aug. 27, 2020 for state legislators to discuss how they can rein in governors, who wield seemingly unlimited powers in the wake of COVID-19. For many months, Americans have been abhorred by out-of-control governors who have imposed draconian lockdowns, which have decimated small businesses and people’s livelihoods. For instance, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been roundly criticized for his heavy-handed and ineffectual response to the coronavirus outbreak in New York, which has drawn substantial blowback. Cuomo has also attempted to coverup his disastrous policy of forcing elderly patients with COVID-19 to return to nursing homes, where they spread the deadly diseases like wildfire among New York’s most vulnerable. As the days grow shorter and the temperatures dip lower, now is the time to begin exploring oversight over dictatorial governors and restore power where it rightfully belongs: With we the people, not I the governor.
Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the Budget & Tax News website, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.
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