Republicans petition to subpoena NYS DOH, Democrat lawmaker looks to reform FOIL process

NY Capitol News

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The New York Attorney General’s report on COVID-19 and nursing homes last week highlighted issues with transparency.

In an effort to get more information on COVID-19 nursing home resident deaths, Assembly Republicans have sent out petitions to the Oversight, Analysis and Investigation Committee, the Health Committee and the Aging Committee urging members to sign on to subpoena the New York State Department of Health. 

“The situation of a loved one dying is always emotional. What makes this particularly tragic is loved ones of those who passed don’t know simple questions- where, when and in some cases how their loved one passed,” said Republican Assemblyman Angelino who is on the Oversight Committee. He says only a simple majority of four out of the seven lawmakers on the committee would need to be on the petition to draw up a legislative subpoena. 

But, Democrat Assemblyman Phil Steck, who is also a member on the Oversight Committee said of the petition, “I think that’s kind of beating a dead horse now for political reasons. The Attorney General has already released a comprehensive report.” 

Steck says while he’s supported the proposal of an independent study, if there was criminal wrongdoing, it’s up to the Attorney General to prosecute that. 

Meanwhile Angelino says the AG report does not paint the full picture. “First off, the numbers we have to explain the discrepancy. Second, the numbers don’t explain who knew what, who knew what and when, and also the loved ones left behind want to know where and when their loved one died,” Angelino said.

Steck says a bigger issue is the problem with Freedom of Information Law process. “I think the broader question here is why we don’t get accurate information from the Cuomo Administration…What happens is when you make your request, if it’s denied, you have to appeal to the same agency that denied your request. And then if they deny it again you have to go to court,” Steck said noting that can be time consuming and costly. Steck has drafted a bill to reform it.

“I’ve introduced new legislation to say that ok, if you want to appeal this, you can appeal to what’s called the Committee on Open Government which are experts on Freedom of Information Laws and therefore, I think that would go a long way to opening up the public information that the Governor should be providing,” Steck said.

Earlier this week in response to a judge’s ruling on a FOIL lawsuit against the Department of Health from the Empire Center, in regard to the nursing home death numbers, the DOH said it’s in the process of responding and updating the DOH website with public information. 

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