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Assembly Democrats agree to take action against Cuomo admin over nursing homes

Dan Clark
New York Now (file photo)
NYS Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie speaks to reporters in Albany on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021

There’s a consensus among Democrats in the State Assembly that action must be taken against the Cuomo administration for withholding information on COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters Monday.

Heastie made the remarks after Democrats in the Assembly met for six hours Monday to discuss next steps, including a potential removal of Cuomo’s emergency pandemic powers.

“I do think there’s a consensus of the members that they want to take some action,” Heastie said. “We’re still trying to come to a place where all the members are comfortable, and I don’t know if we’re there yet.”

Democrats in the state Legislature are currently considering action against Cuomo and his staff after it was revealed that the administration purposefully withheld information requested by members of the Legislature on COVID-19 and the state’s nursing homes.

Among those options, as of now, is to strip Cuomo of emergency law-making powers granted to him nearly a year ago to expedite the state’s response to the pandemic.

Those powers have allowed Cuomo to create and suspend laws without prior permission from the state Legislature. At times, that’s been a benefit during a pandemic riddled with tough decisions. But some lawmakers are ready to curb Cuomo’s power.

Democrats in the State Senate intend to approve legislation, likely next week, that would create a special commission to review future actions from the Cuomo administration in relation to the pandemic.

Democrats in the Assembly haven’t said whether they’ll take similar action, but Heastie said that’s not for lack of discussion on the matter. They met for six hours Monday.

“It was a long conference and we heard from a lot of the members,” Heastie said. “I think the biggest thing for the members is transparency and accountability.”

Democrats in the state Legislature had been asking the Cuomo administration, since August, for a detailed breakdown of how many nursing home residents died after they were transferred to a hospital. The state had stopped disclosing that data early on in the pandemic.

Instead, the Cuomo administration only publicly reported deaths of nursing home residents when that individual died within the facility. If they were transferred out before their death, that fatality was lumped into the rest of the state’s deaths and not associated with a nursing home.

A few weeks ago, a top aide to Cuomo, Melissa DeRosa, revealed during a closed-door meeting with lawmakers that they didn’t disclose that information six months ago because of a similar request for data from the federal government.

That request was fulfilled within a few months, but the Cuomo administration still didn’t disclose the data publicly until a report from the state Attorney General’s Office, in January, claimed there had been an undercount in nursing home deaths.

Within hours of that report, the administration released new data showing the number of nursing home residents who died after they were transferred out of the facility. The administration has since reported that information daily.

The whole event has set off a wide range of discussions within the Legislature from limiting Cuomo’s pandemic powers to the governor’s potential impeachment. The latter option is extremely unlikely; Democrats have shown no signs of launching impeachment proceedings.

Cuomo, meanwhile, has put up a staunch defense of his administration’s actions, saying the state should have more freely disclosed the requested data to lawmakers and members of the media at the time.

Dan Clark is the host and producer of New York NOW, a weekly television show focusing on state government produced by WMHT in Albany. Clark has been reporting on New York state government and politics for the last six years, during which time he's worked out of the state Capitol in Albany. Clark reported for the national political fact-checking publication PolitiFact, the Buffalo News, the statewide political television show Capital Tonight, and most recently the New York Law Journal. At the New York Law Journal, Clark has focused on state legal challenges to President Donald Trump, as well as litigation concerning laws enacted by the New York State Legislature. Clark covered the Legislature in each role he's held and is a familiar face to state lawmakers and staff. Clark is a native of Afton, NY in Chenango County. He's lived in Albany with his husband since 2011.