After the legislature refused to grant a 45-day extension of his emergency powers yesterday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced this afternoon that he is reinstating a statewide public health emergency in response to the highly contagious Omicron variant of Covid.
“While we hope to return to a state of normalcy as soon as possible, the step I am taking today is a commonsense measure that will protect the safety and well-being of all New Jersey residents while allowing state government to respond to the continuing threat that COVID-19 poses to our daily lives,” Murphy said in a statement.
In practical terms, the declaration means that Murphy will be able to continue the state’s mask and vaccine mandates without legislative approval, or institute new policies if he deems them necessary. The state will also retain its ability to coordinate vaccine distribution and collect data related to Covid.
Republicans were quick to decry the new public health emergency, with State Sen. Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton) saying in a statement that Murphy was wrong to continue circumventing the legislature.
“While Governor Murphy always talks about moving New Jersey ‘forward,’ he’s taking a giant leap backward by reinstating a new public health emergency,” Bucco said. “We need to give people hope that life is returning to normal, not returning to one man’s rule by executive order.”
Yesterday, Murphy announced that he intended to maintain the state’s school masking mandate, and that he was in productive discussions with legislative leaders about extending his emergency powers. Those discussions collapsed hours later, however, when a number of Republican senators objected and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) announced that his chamber would not vote on a resolution to extend Murphy’s powers.
Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-Denville), apparently predicting what Murphy would do to get around the legislature, proposed yesterday to cap Murphy’s powers under a declaration of emergency to two weeks, but Assembly Democrats successfully shot down the motion.