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Gov. Phil Murphy signed a memorandum of understanding to support Bollywood film production in New Jersey while on a trade mission to India, but there may be some question about his legal authority to do that.
While Murphy is in India for his trade mission, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver is the Acting Governor.
In New Jersey, when the governor leaves the state for more than just a brief time – like a trip across the Hudson – the Lt. Governor becomes Acting Governor. That role offers essentially transfers the constitutional authority of the Governor to the Lt. Governor.
As Acting Governor, Oliver signs bills and issues executive orders. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno did the same during prolonged absences from the state by the-Gov. Chris Christie.
When John O. Bennett III was Acting Governor for 3 ½ days in 2002, he used his constitutional power to pardon one of his friends and campaign donors. He also took the pro-rated paycheck of what a governor would have made – about $1,678 – in addition to his Senate President salary.
If New Jersey can have only one governor at any given moment – today it was Oliver – then Murphy’s signature on an MOU with the Producers Guild of India was probably just ceremonial.
And it’s easy to fix – and not a big deal. Either Oliver can sign it too, or Murphy could sign it again once he arrives back in New Jersey on Sunday morning.