Home>Highlight>Assembly panel clears bill providing Murphy with non-emergency pandemic powers

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

Assembly panel clears bill providing Murphy with non-emergency pandemic powers

Measure is part of a deal to see New Jersey’s public health emergency sunset next month

By Nikita Biryukov, May 18 2021 4:29 pm

The Assembly Appropriations Committee advance a bill that would allow Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration to continue issuing directives and orders related to the pandemic after the state’s public health emergency designation expired along party lines Tuesday.

The bill, part of a deal that could see the state’s public health emergency expire next month, would rescind most of the executive orders Murphy issued over the past 14 months 30 days after it’s signed into law, but it would keep a handful of measures in place and allow the governor to continue making rules, including ones on masking, social distancing and vaccine distribution, among other things.

The legislation would keep 15 of the governor’s executive orders in place until Jan. 1, 2022, and allow him to alter or revoke them in the intervening months.

Those include orders creating moratoriums on evictions and utility shutoffs, as well as those allowing restaurants to create outdoor dining spaces and imposing social distancing and hygiene requirements on businesses.

Orders laying out rules for youth day and overnight camps, shielding stimulus payments from wage garnishment, extending insurance premium grace periods, extending various government deadlines and requiring health care facilities to report data to the state daily are also being kept in place until next year.

The bill allows the governor and his commissioners to continue making rules on vaccine distribution, virus testing, health care staff allocation, data collection and coordination with local health departments.

It also lets Murphy continue issuing orders to implement guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

No part of the bill limits the governor’s existing authority, nor does it reign in broad emergency powers provided to Murphy under the Civilian Defense and Disaster Control and Emergency Health Powers Acts.

The measure, announced last week as a long-awaited end to the state’s emergency declaration, was met with criticism from the panel’s Republican lawmakers, who said the bill did not go far enough.

“The bill doesn’t really seem to do all that much, which is a problem because we were all anticipating a bill to come out that would end the governor’s executive order authority when really what this bill does — it’s like a cleanup bill so he doesn’t have to go through and rescind all of his executive orders,” said Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-Denville). “It’s kind of like a convenience bill for the governor.”

Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Paulsboro) said the bill was in response to growing calls for the governor to wind down virus restrictions as the state’s case counts plummet and its vaccination rates climb.

“Our role here is to bring the voice of the people to the attention of the governor in legislation, in resolutions. This legislature formalizes a voice that we’re hearing that we want certain steps taken,” he said, acknowledging the bill wouldn’t satisfy all parties.

The measure could come up for a vote in Thursday’s Assembly session. It’s not clear when it will move in the Senate, though it’s possible it’ll be placed on the agenda for the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Thursday meeting.

Expect Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge), the bill’s sponsor, to face questions over the measure on the chamber’s floor.

“It gives the governor, essentially, all the powers of having a health emergency without having a health emergency,” Bergen said. “I’m just blown away, guys, by this bill.”

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