Gov. Phil Murphy will allow the state’s public health emergency to lapse next month if legislation providing his administration with unspecified powers to continue managing the pandemic reaches his desk before mid-June.
“Our Administration is working closely with Senate President Sweeney and Speaker Coughlin on legislation that will allow the public health emergency to expire, but ensure that we have the necessary tools and flexibility to continue the fight against the pandemic, including the vaccination efforts that are our highest priority,” he said Friday. “By working together, we are confident that we can move to the next phase of our recovery effort.”
Allowing the emergency declaration to lapse would deprive Murphy of executive powers he’s used broadly to respond to the pandemic since the state reported its first case of COVID-19 last March.
The move comes roughly six weeks after Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) said legislators were tiring of the governor’s use of executive orders, which allowed his pandemic response to circumvent legislative approval.
The Senate president took a more conciliatory approach Thursday, praising the governor’s response to the crisis and adding the front office and his team had since had “very positive conversations” on the issue.
“This marks real progress as we work to emerge from the worst public health crisis of our lifetime,” Sweeney said Friday. “It’s the beginning of the end of a crisis that has tragically claimed the lives of an unimaginable number of New Jerseyans and impacted the lives and livelihoods of nearly everyone.”
Murphy, Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin are working on legislation that would provide the administration with tools to handle recovery and vaccination efforts, though there’s little detail about what those powers would entail.
It’s possible they don’t reach a deal in the next 30 days, after which the public health emergency would expire unless renewed. Murphy signaled he would prolong the declaration if there was no deal by this time next month, though the top Democrats were all optimism Friday.
“Our state has shown remarkable resilience during this pandemic,” Coughlin said. “I will work closely with the Governor and Senate President to produce legislation that enables us to safely and responsibly reopen our state as we seek to spur the economy and create jobs. We will come back stronger than ever.”