Murphy, Top Democrats’ plan to end NJ’s COVID health emergency is suddenly in trouble

A highly debated – and accelerated – plan that would end New Jersey’s public health emergency over COVID-19, but empower the governor. Phil MurphyThe EU administration to retain a number of powers to continue fighting the pandemic until the end of this year has suddenly hit a roadblock thanks to opposition from state lawmakers in the two main gone.

President of the National Assembly Craig Coughlin abruptly announced that he had canceled a planned vote on the measure on Thursday so that lawmakers could “refine” the proposal to make it “the fairest and most responsible bill possible.”

“I am committed to ending the public health emergency,” Coughlin, D-Middlesex, said in a statement. “This is extremely important legislation that we need to get right.”

The move comes just six days after Murphy, Coughlin and the president of the state Senate Stephen Sweeney – all Democrats – announced an agreement to end the public health emergency which has given Murphy sweeping powers over the past 14 months to fight the coronavirus, including setting mask mandates and trade restrictions, without input from lawmakers.

With New Jersey’s COVID-19 numbers improving dramatically as vaccinations continue, Murphy said he would end the emergency next month if the Democratic-controlled state legislature passes a bill. law allowing his administration to keep “tools” to continue to fight against the crisis and to deploy vaccinations. .

The law project (A5777) would revoke nearly all of Murphy’s executive orders related to the pandemic, but it would not eliminate all of the remaining restrictions. Instead, he would retain 15 of the orders until January 2022 – including a moratorium on evictions and utility closures, as well as all masking and social distancing measures in effect at the time.

Murphy would also continue to oversee the distribution of vaccines, and he could revoke or modify any of the remaining orders before the end of the year – although he could only make them more restrictive if the COVID-19 figures of the condition worsen.

But Republicans – who have repeatedly criticized Murphy for issuing ordinances without getting the opinion of the Legislative Assembly – trashed the bill.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, said Thursday it would “fundamentally change the way Trenton and the government were going to do business,” continuing to allow Murphy to unilaterally make decisions about the housing, insurance schools and businesses.

Republicans say they instead want lawmakers to have a say in how to handle the pandemic, including holding public hearings.

“My concern here centers on the rights of every citizen to be heard through their legislature,” Bramnick said at a Zoom press conference following Coughlin’s announcement. “It was a dangerous attempt to take away the rights of each of you and give them to one person.”

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Assemblyman Hal Wirths, R-Sussex, said the measure would continue a “dictatorship” that Murphy has enjoyed for more than a year.

“It’s time for King Phil to leave the throne and allow lawmakers to get back to business,” Wirths said.

State Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Warren, said the bill “automatically approves” governor’s orders through 2022 and “looks more like Stockholm syndrome than real oversight by a supposedly equal branch of the government”.

Sweeney, the president of the state Senate, told NJ Advance Media on Tuesday that he was disappointed with Republicans because the bill is a compromise that allows the Legislature to become “a partner” in the response. to the pandemic.

“I don’t want to tie their hands to deal with pandemic issues,” Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said of Murphy’s administration.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., R-Union, said Republicans were “never consulted or invited to participate in a negotiation on ending the public health emergency.”

“Keeping emergency executive orders and unnecessary restrictions in place after the public health emergency is over makes absolutely no sense,” Kean added. “If they had been asked, we would have told them it was a bad deal.”

Two legislative sources told NJ Advance Media that some lawmakers in both parties were “getting heat” from voters over the bill and spooked in a year when the 120 seats in the Legislative Assembly are on. the ballot. Some lawmakers also personally felt the measure didn’t go far enough to limit Murphy’s powers, a source said.

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity to candidly discuss the matter.

Coughlin said in his statement that he made the decision to overturn Thursday’s vote after speaking with “legislative colleagues, lawyers and other interested parties.”

A source said a big problem is that Murphy decided to keep the state’s indoor mask mandate is in place for all people despite recent federal guidelines that fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear face coverings in most cases.

Murphy said the state needs more time to continue reducing coronavirus numbers and will likely relax the mandate in the coming weeks. He hinted Wednesday that the state would likely take more steps to ease restrictions by memorial daywhich is 11 days.

A source said the bill would likely be amended, although it was unclear what changes would be made.

If the Legislative Assembly does not pass a measure Murphy agrees with by mid-June, the governor may extend the public health emergency to a 15th month. This would allow him to retain all of his commands and continue to give his administration most of the authority to respond to the pandemic.

Alyana Alfaro, spokeswoman for Murphy’s office, said Thursday that the governor “believes the state must move beyond the public health emergency in a responsible manner and in a way that ensures the administration retains the tools necessary to manage recovery and vaccination efforts, as well as the continued public health threat.”

“The governor will continue to work with legislative leaders to ensure we achieve this common goal,” Alfaro added.

Assemblyman Brian Bergen, R-Morris, on Thursday called on the Legislature to vote on a Republican-sponsored bill (A4147) in which lawmakers should extend or revoke each of the governor’s executive orders after 14 days. The leaders of the Democratic Assembly tabled the motion.

“Who rules in the governor?” Bergen asked. “What are you doing to make us an equal branch of government instead of the Governor’s lapdog?”

Former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge Murphy in the November election, tweeted that the governor “learns that the public has had enough of his abusive decrees”.

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Brent Johnson can be attached to [email protected].

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