The Assembly Republican Conference announced Friday that it would introduce a measure to begin the process of forming an Impeachment Commission to gather facts and evidence surrounding Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s handling and subsequent cover-up of the COVID-19 crisis in nursing homes.
The proposed concurrent resolution of the state Assembly and Senate would establish the “Temporary Joint Legislative Committee on Investigating the State’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic in Nursing Homes.” The resolution states that the Committee would be tasked with “examining the state’s method of administration and conduct in all matters relating to nursing homes and long-term care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.” A full copy of the resolution is available here.
The resolution sets a 60-day deadline for the Committee to conduct its work and submit findings and recommendations to the Legislature.
“The Cuomo Administration’s nursing home cover-up is one of the most alarming scandals we’ve seen in state government,” said Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay. “Intentionally withholding critical information from the public, under-reporting fatality numbers by 50 percent and the recent revelation they hid the truth to avoid a federal Department of Justice investigation are among the factors that raise the serious possibility of criminality. It is incumbent upon the Legislature to undertake a comprehensive, bipartisan review of the Cuomo Administration’s policies, decisions and actions on this matter and render a decision on what steps must be taken to hold the governor accountable.”
The bipartisan panel would consist of eight members, with two appointees from each legislative leader. Of those eight members, the Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority Leader would jointly appoint one co-chair, while another co-chair would be named by the minority leaders in each house. The impeachment panel would have the same powers of a legislative committee, including the ability to subpoena witnesses and compel records, correspondence and documents related to the matter be produced.
After the Cuomo Administration spent months refusing to provide information on the state’s true nursing home death toll, Attorney General Letitia James issued a scathing report on January 28 which revealed state officials underreported the number of deaths by 50 percent. In addition, the attorney general’s report indicated that March 25 guidance from the state Department of Health, requiring facilities to accept COVID-positive patients, contributed to the spread of the disease.
On February 1 Assembly Republicans wrote to their colleagues on the Committees on Health, Aging and Oversight, Analysis & Investigations, urging them to take a procedural step and sign a petition to initiate legislative hearings and use full subpoena powers. The Democrat members of those committees have not responded or pursued legislative hearings.
“The Legislature has a responsibility to hold this administration accountable. Rolling back the governor’s emergency powers is important, but doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what’s needed,” said Leader Barclay. “We now know the federal government is investigating Gov. Cuomo, as Assembly Republicans have been calling for. But in no way should the federal response prevent state legislators from pursuing the truth, gathering facts and determining the proper course of action.”
Historically, the New York State Legislature has always checked executive abuse and power. In May 1913, a joint legislative committee was established by a concurrent resolution to investigate Governor Sulzer’s use of patronage. It was named the Frawley Commission after Sen. James J. Frawley who chaired the committee. The Commission’s scope was later expanded to investigate Sulzer’s campaign finances. The ultimate impeachment of Gov. Sulzer was based on the Commission’s findings.