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Senators Draft Legal Penalties for FOIL Violations

Senators draft new legislation after spending seven months trying to get answers.

Senator Jim Tedisco and the Empire Center for Public Policy recently won a lawsuit filed attempting to obtain data on COVID 19 nursing home deaths.  Tedisco (R,C-Glenville) and Senator Daphne Jordan (R,C-Halfmoon) called to question whether New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and his Administration tried to cover up data related to the deaths of 15,000 nursing home residents.  The senators are now authoring new legislation creating criminal penalties for violating New York’s open government and Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).  The new proposal would hold the Governor personally liable to pay criminal penalties and face any judgments, including possible jail time, for knowingly violating FOIL requests in refusing to disclose information.

The two senators spent approximately seven months trying to get the information they sought through a FOIL request, and a judge ultimately ruled that the state health department violated state law regarding records access.

“The governor’s not going to be paying the legal fees because he’s indemnified.  If there was something that ever-poured salt in the wound, that was it,” Tedisco said. “If you hide information and you break the law in terms of a FOIL, it’s a criminal activity.”

Photo by Bernard Tuck on Unsplash

“The Cuomo cover-up is more than just another Albany scandal – it’s a potentially massive crime as his Administration, by their own admission, deliberately withheld pertinent information from federal and state authorities about the deaths of 15,000 of our fellow New Yorkers,” Jordan agreed, adding, “It’s abundantly clear that in addition to writing a book, the Governor and his team were busy cooking the books, desperately trying to hide his Administration’s complicity and culpability in the nation’s worst nursing home disaster during the COVID-19 pandemic.  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.  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.”

Tedisco continued, “Governor Cuomo and his senior staff lied about the nursing homes and New Yorkers have paid and died.  Justice Kimberly O’Connor should have been able to put the judgment and onus of paying legal fees and any other fines on the Governor and his senior staff and not taxpayers…I’ve dealt with [Cuomo’s] Administration’s stonewalling previous to the nursing home issue in my efforts to FOIL for information related to the collapse of the St. Clare’s Hospital Pension Fund.  There have been many stories chronicled in the media about FOIL requests to the Cuomo Administration that have been delayed months and even years.  This is public information and people have a right to know what their government is doing on their behalf. 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.”

Sources:

Bill creates criminal penalties, personal liability for officials who violate FOIL laws

Tedisco & Jordan: “Cuomo Lied and New Yorkers Paid and Died”

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