Home>Governor>Both chambers to vote on bill giving Murphy non-emergency pandemic powers Thursday

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge), left, with Gov. Phil Murphy.

Both chambers to vote on bill giving Murphy non-emergency pandemic powers Thursday

New version adds legislative oversight not present in bill rejected by Democrats last month

By Nikita Biryukov, June 02 2021 10:29 am

Both chambers of the legislature are set to vote on a new bill lending Gov. Phil Murphy powers to continue handling the COVID-19 crisis while ending the state’s public health emergency Thursday.

The new bills, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) in their respective chambers, would keep in place 14 of Murphy’s executive orders but adds legislative oversight not present in a version of the bill killed by Democratic opposition in late May.

Orders creating eviction and utility shutoff moratoriums, as well as those allowing restaurants to create outdoor dining spaces will remain in effect until Jan. 1, 2022, while most others will expire 30 days after the bill is signed into law.

An order requiring businesses to have their workers social distance and wear masks, along with a slew of other virus mitigation measures it imposed on employees and customers, that was maintained in the earlier bill would expire 30 days after the bill’s passage.

Murphy has drastically eased virus restrictions since legislative Democrats balked at the initial proposal. The state’s mask mandate has been loosened, with a requirement for masking in most retail spaces gone and capacity limits set to be lifted this Friday.

Other executive orders laying out rules for youth day and overnight camps, shielding stimulus payments from wage garnishment, extending insurance premium grace periods, delaying various government deadlines and requiring health care facilities to report daily virus data to the state are also being maintained until at least Jan. 1.

The bill allows Murphy to alter or revoke the 14 executive orders until then.

An executive order shielding health care providers from civil and criminal liability will expire on Sept. 1, though it will still provide protections for individuals involved in the state’s vaccination and virus testing efforts.

Directives issued by members of Murphy’s cabinet will stay in effect until Jan. 11, 2022, unless explicitly revoked, and the latest version of the bill allows the governor to extend for 90 days any administrative order, directive or waiver issued by a state agency, though such extensions must be approved by simple majorities of both chambers of the legislature.

The bill allows state agency heads to continue issuing directives, orders and waivers related to vaccine distribution, virus testing, health care staffing and data collection until Jan. 11, 2022, though the governor can seek a 90-day extension here too.

State agencies can make rules related to coordination with local health officials and the implementation of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance under the same restrictions.

The bill is likely to face Republican opposition similar to what was seen by the previous version. Republicans, like some Democrats, said the bill did not go far enough, taking issue with its extension of eviction moratoriums they said harmed landlords, among other things.

The measure is part of a deal between the governor and Democratic legislative leaders to see the state’s public health emergency declaration lapse in mid-June.

The bill was put directly onto second reading in both chambers, a maneuver that allows it to reach the Senate and Assembly floors without being heard in committee.

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