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Senate OKs nursing home oversight bills; no action on Cuomo powers

Senators meet in the Capitol in Albany on

Senators meet in the Capitol in Albany on the opening day of the 2021 legislative session Jan. 6. Credit: AP / Hans Pennink

ALBANY — The State Senate on Monday approved a package of nursing home oversight bills, including mandates on inspections and fatality reporting.

Meanwhile, lawmakers delayed action on an issue spurred in part by a federal investigation of the Cuomo administration's handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes: Whether to strip or amend Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's extraordinary emergency powers granted to him last spring.

One of the proposals in the Senate legislative package would require the state Health Department to record COVID-19 deaths of nursing home residents as "nursing home deaths" even if the patient, upon becoming ill, was transferred to a hospital where he or she died. That particular bill references the controversy over the Cuomo administration not counting such fatalities as nursing home deaths.

"The tragic situation in our nursing homes remains a heartbreaking reminder of the toll this pandemic has taken and has made it clear that real reforms are needed," Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. "The Senate majority is taking action to deliver meaningful results by increasing transparency and raising the standard of care provided at these facilities

The Democratic-led Senate introduced the 11 bills earlier this year. Upon passage, the measures will go the Democratic-run state Assembly.

Among the proposals, one would require a nursing home to spend at least 70% of its revenue on direct patient care.

Another would require facilities to disclose in writing to residents’ family members health and safety violations and other actions taken against a facility. Another would mandate infection-control audits.

Most of the bills were approved with 2 or fewer negative votes in the 63-member chamber.

However, Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, a Niagara County Republican, tried to force a vote on an amendment to immediately strip Cuomo of his ability to create or suspend state laws to deal with the pandemic. Without that action, Ortt said, the series of bills voted on Monday would have little impact.

"All the bills we are passing today simply don't mean anything if the governor retains his emergency powers," Ortt said. His motion to force a vote failed along party lines, 43-20.

The Democrats who control the Senate have been in discussion with the Democratic-led Assembly about a bill that would force Cuomo to get approval from a legislative panel to carry out emergency regulations because of the pandemic. Assembly Democrats discussed the issue for several hours behind closed doors Monday.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) told reporters he thought there was a general "consensus" on the issue, but no agreements on specifics.

Cuomo, facing blowback on several fronts, unveiled his own nursing home legislation package last week. It also includes the so-called 70% bill as well as giving homes 30 days to rectify some violations and increasing penalties for public-health law violations.

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