As Gov. Andrew Cuomo faces backlash for his administration’s underreporting of pandemic-related nursing home deaths, two local lawmakers are calling for harsher penalties on officials who violate New York State’s Freedom of Information Law.
Sen. Jim Tedisco, R,C-Glenville, and Sen. Daphne Jordan, R,C-Halfmoon, proposed a bill Monday pushing for the criminalization of violating open government and records access laws. The proposal follows the revelation that the Cuomo administration underreported statewide long-term care resident deaths, which is revealed to be 15,000 in total since the start of the pandemic. Only 8,500 were previously reported.
“This is public information, and people have a right to know what their government is doing on their behalf,” Tedisco said in a statement. “No governor or senior appointee should ever again be able to hide public information like the data related to the deaths of 15,000 nursing home residents without facing criminal penalties.”
The proposed bill would increase consequences for government officials that violate the Freedom of Information Law, beyond the current consequences of paying plaintiff’s legal fees if they lose a FOIL case.
“Any state official — whether it’s Governor Cuomo, Health Commissioner Zucker, Secretary Melissa DeRosa, or anyone else — who knowingly violates FOIL requests and our open government law by refusing to disclose public information should face jail time,” Jordan said. “We also need to remove their indemnification to ensure that taxpayers aren’t paying the legal bills for an official’s malfeasance and gross dereliction of duty. Now, more than ever, there must be a thorough, independent investigation into this growing scandal so families can finally learn the truth and we can ensure that such a tragedy never happens again.”