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Assemblyman Gerard Scharfenberger. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe).

Assembly Republicans push back on Murphy’s emergency extension

Ciattarelli says Murphy’s request is understandable, but more restrictions would be unacceptable

By Joey Fox, January 04 2022 1:07 pm

After Gov. Phil Murphy announced yesterday that he would seek a 90-day extension of his Covid-related emergency powers at next week’s legislative voting session, a number of Assembly Republicans are saying they won’t support the measure.

According to Murphy, the extension would allow him to continue to have discretion over policies like the state school mask mandate, which was implemented for this school year without explicit legislative approval. The governor was first granted wide-ranging emergency powers in March 2020, and while the emergency officially ended in June 2021, he struck a deal with the legislature to retain some powers through January 11 of this year.

Now, with the omicron variant pushing state case levels to new heights, Murphy said that a further 90-day extension is necessary, but some Republicans readily voiced their disagreement.

“We don’t have to wait until the voting session, he can have my vote now if he’d like – NO,” Assemblyman Gerard Scharfenberger (R-Middletown) said in a statement. “Rather than looking to extend the governor’s emergency powers, we should be revoking the constraints that have been in place since March 2020 which, if these policies worked, we would have been over this a year and a half ago.”

Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-Denville) and departing Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso (R-Holmdel) expressed similar viewpoints on Twitter. 

Bergen, a frequent critic of the state’s Covid policies, said that Murphy “can’t [extend his powers] without it passing the Senate and Assembly,” to which DiMaso replied, “Well I’m a no! Call your legislators and tell them not to extend these powers.”

But not every New Jersey Republican is automatically opposed to Murphy’s request. Jack Ciattarelli, who lost last year’s race for governor but arguably remains the state’s Republican standard-bearer, said in an interview that Murphy was not necessarily wrong to seek an extension.

“Given where we are with the virus right now, with our hospitals and ICU units nearing capacity, it’s understandable, especially with regard to vaccine distribution and testing,” Ciattarelli said.

Ciattarelli clarified, however, that the powers should not be used to enable state government overreach, something the former assemblyman sharply criticized Murphy for during the gubernatorial campaign. 

“I think there would be widespread concern if the governor’s going to use executive power authority to start announcing new statewide restrictions. That’s the last thing people want to see,” he said. “I would never use that authority for statewide restrictions that didn’t work last time around.”

The debate over the extension, which may grow in stature when the January 10 voting session arrives, is one of many fronts in the ongoing battle over the state’s Covid policies. 

Ciattarelli based much of his gubernatorial campaign on opposing vaccine and masking mandates, and a cohort of Assembly Republicans – among them Scharfenberger, Bergen, and DiMaso – have staged high-profile rebellions against the statehouse’s vaccine-or-test mandate in the months since the election.

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