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Deal reached on bill to curtail Cuomo emergency powers

Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his State of the

Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his State of the State address virtually from The War Room at the state Capitol, in Albany on Jan. 11. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — Legislative leaders reached a deal Tuesday to pass a bill to strip Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of some of his emergency powers granted to him at the onset of the pandemic, another blow to a governor already facing a political crisis.

After chafing at Cuomo’s control of nearly all aspects of New York’s COVID-19 for a year, lawmakers said it was time to take back some control. Under the bill, the governor could modify or renew — with legislative review — some of the hundreds of directives he issued during the pandemic. Even then, modification would be strictly limited to changing the numeric impact of existing directives, such as restaurant capacity.

Cuomo would be prohibited from issuing any new directives at all, officials said. And the bill would, for the first time, give the State Legislature new authority to reverse a governor's declaration of an emergency.

"The temporary emergency powers have served their purpose. It is time for them to be repealed," Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said in announcing an agreement with Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers).

The State Legislature could vote on the bill Friday or, if not, early next week, officials said.

It wasn’t immediately clear if Cuomo would veto the legislation.

The third-term Democrat has said he needed the extraordinary powers — to suspend, create or revise laws with authority no recent governor enjoyed — as a practical way to deal with the virus.

But a veto would likely carry the high probability of an override for several reasons.

Far more than two-thirds of the 63 senators and 150 Assembly members are expected to support the bill, meaning they could easily muster the votes needed for an override.

Further, Cuomo has been weakened politically by a sexual harassment scandal in which three women — including two former aides — have made allegations against him and some fellow Democrats have called for his resignation. Also, his administration is under federal investigation for its handling of COVID-19 and nursing homes.

If the bill goes into law, any COVID-19-related directive issued by Cuomo would remain in effect another 30 days.

If a locality is exclusively impacted by a Cuomo directive, local government officials would have the opportunity to weigh in on any policy continuation or modification, the legislators said.

If Cuomo wanted to enact a new policy, he would have to ask the State Legislature to pass a law under the old parameters that existed before the pandemic: Introduce it in writing and allow legislators to review it at least three days before voting on it. Or ask legislators to accept a "message of necessity" to immediately waive the waiting period and allow a vote.

Republicans, who are in the minority in Albany, have been calling for terminating the governor's extraordinary powers for months. Assemb. Edward Ra (R-Franklin Square) said the key to the proposed bill is how clearly Democrats spell out language limiting the governor, "otherwise, it's just window dressing."

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