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New York State Legislature Votes To Curb Gov. Cuomo's Emergency Powers

ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- The New York State Legislature voted to strip Gov. Andrew Cuomo of his emergency powers Friday.

"A year ago, the governor was granted powers to issue directives. Today, we are taking that away from him," Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris said Friday.

While some some say it is a repeal of the temporary authority granted at the start of the pandemic, others say it falls well short, CBS2's Tony Aiello reported.

Amid growing scandals surrounding the governor, the measure will require Cuomo to work more closely with the legislature to make future pandemic decisions.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie released the following statement Friday night --

"A year ago, as New York was being ravaged by COVID-19, we passed legislation to give the governor temporary emergency powers that would allow the state to nimbly react to a constantly evolving, deadly situation. These temporary emergency powers were always meant to be that – temporary. 

"Now, New Yorkers are getting vaccinated and we are beginning to look toward a return to normalcy. And with that, our government must return to regular order. By immediately repealing the temporary emergency powers, allowing no new directives to be issued and bringing transparency and oversight to the standing directives, we can establish better communication and collaboration with our local communities and help preserve the health and wellbeing of New Yorkers as we see the light at the end of the tunnel of this devastating and deadly healthcare crisis."

Pandemic life in New York was shaped by a series of emergency orders issued by Gov. Cuomo: What could open, when, and how many people were allowed.

Now, as the governor is engulfed in controversy, Democrats in the legislature moved to curb his emergency powers. Republicans say it's a joke.

"You are voting to move forward with a bill that sounds good on the surface, but does nothing," said Assemblyman Jarett Gandolfo (R) from Suffolk County.

Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro (R) said there's a misconception Albany is returning power to local governments.

"Local governments can't undo anything... When I have restaurants called me, saying, 'What are you going to do? I want to open up,' or gyms want to open up, 'You now have the power,' my answer is, 'I don't,'" said Molinaro.

Dutchess County has a 30-mile border with Connecticut, where restrictions on restaurants and gyms will soon be lifted. They'll stay in place in Dutchess.

"Dutchess County business will remain at a competitive disadvantage and we'll see Dutchess County residents leave Dutchess and New York to bordering states," Molinaro said.

Watch Tony Aiello's report --

Democrats say their action will provide a check on the governor's unilateral emergency powers.

"We can formally and critically review what's on the books, prevent anything new from being issued," said Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski (D) from Rockland County.

In the state senate, Gianaris pointed out Republican critics worked with Cuomo for years when they controlled the chamber.

"They believed the governor wanted a Republican state senate. So for eight years, not a subpoena issued, not a cross word said," said Gianaris.

Still, the vote on emergency powers is seen as a step towards the legislature pushing back after a year of unprecedented power for Gov. Cuomo.

Meanwhile, as CBS2's Dick Brennan reports, the drumbeat for the governor's resignation grows.

"If he doesn't resign, it will soon turn into an impeachment process," Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim said.

The governor is showing no signs of giving up, but what would change that?

"A lot more women, a criminal charge of some kind, something we haven't seen yet," Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf said.

This comes as Charlotte Bennett, one of the women accusing the governor of sexual harassment, offers new details on her experiences.

She says days after Cuomo allegedly sexually harassed her she reported it to his chief of staff and was relived when she was transferred out of the office.

"It felt to me like if I got a new job, we didn't really have to investigate this, and I really did not want it to be investigated. I was terrified," Bennett said.

"You were happy with the deal," CBS Evening News anchor Norah O'Donnell said.

"Yeah," Bennett said.

The following month, Bennett was called into another meeting, this time with the governor's chief of staff and general counsel.

"At first, they apologized. They said it was inappropriate. When I asked them if they could let it go, saying, 'I don't want this to be investigated. Please drop this,' you know, because I was scared, she said, 'You came to us before anything serious happened. It was just grooming, and it was not yet considered sexual harassment. So for that, we do not need to investigate.'"

What does Bennett think Cuomo should do?

"I think he should start telling the truth," she said. "But if this investigation finds that he has conducted himself this way, which he absolutely has because I have contemporaneous evidence, he should step down."

A Cuomo spokesman says the Bennett case was handled appropriately.

Bennett also claims the governor's office director completed sexual harassment training for Cuomo. They deny this.

CBS2's Dick Brennan contributed to this report.

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