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Critical week ahead for Cuomo's pandemic powers

ALBANY — Senate Democrats met Friday to draft a bill to curb Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s pandemic powers, but it’s not clear the Democratic-led Assembly will be as quick to act.

The Assembly, which collectively has been less vocal on the issue, has slated a Democratic conference Monday morning where members expect to discuss the matter. Some are predicting it could last well into the afternoon.

At issue are extraordinary powers the legislature granted Cuomo when the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York. Not only does he have the power to suspend laws — as other governors have had, such as then-Gov. George Pataki after 9/11 — but create new laws.

That’s allowed Cuomo to make pretty much all the rules about schools, churches, gyms and travel (even though the State Legislature could have staged an override vote on any particular issue).

The legislature’s unrest about it all has been building and gained momentum after the Cuomo administration acknowledged it had withheld information for months about the number of nursing home residents who had died of, or were suspected of dying of, COVID-19. And then it acknowledged the U.S. Department of Justice has launched an investigation.

A nasty and public fight between Cuomo and Assemb. Ron Kim (D-Flushing) further infuriated more legislators.

The day it happened, though it wasn’t directly related, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) signaled the Senate would vote on a plan that would create a 10-member bipartisan panel with power to approve or disapprove any Cuomo directives.

"Our proposal would create a system with increased input while at the same time ensuring New Yorkers continue to be protected," Stewart-Cousins said.

Over in the Assembly — which is larger and has had less turnover than the Senate — some veteran lawmakers have said the temperature hasn’t been as high. Some have said to wait until the legislation granted the governor expires on April 30. But others contend the "playing field has shifted" after the governor’s fight with Kim.

Even while supporting change, some are warning the legislature should be practical in how it tries to limit the governor.

"I have heard many members of the public call for a full repeal, which may sound like a way to address the concerns and what the public may want to hear in some circumstances," Assemb. John McDonald (D-Cohoes), who also is a pharmacist, wrote on a blog this week. "However, careful review of (Cuomo’s directives) brings up certain items that we may not want to repeal, especially as we are working through the vaccination effort."

McDonald cited decisions such as allowing sheriff's offices and ambulance corps to administer shots. That said, he said he favored a panel, somewhat like what Stewart-Cousins suggested, to "review (executive orders) in depth and determine where legislation is necessary."

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