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Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Bramnick wants legislative hearings to guide state’s recovery

Information on reopening scant from governor, minority leader says

By Nikita Biryukov, May 12 2020 12:05 pm

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick called for legislative hearings to explore how — and when — New Jersey should begin to reopen its economy in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis.

“We don’t have enough information flowing out of Trenton to answer the questions of the people, so we need to start immediately virtual hearings run by legislature, and I’ve asked both the president of the Senate and the Assembly speaker to begin these hearings,” Bramnick said.

The hearings would include testimony from healthcare workers, infectious disease experts and other stakeholders to establish when the state could begin easing restrictions imposed by Gov. Phil Murphy’s various executive actions.

Bramnick said he did not have a date in mind on which restrictions should begin to disappear.

Murphy and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin have each launched panels meant to guide the state’s economic recovery as the number of new COVID-19 cases reported each day begins to drop.

While Bramnick voiced no concerns about the speaker’s panel, he said he wouldn’t wait for the governor’s Restart and Recovery Commission to make its recommendations.

“It should be the state legislature and open hearings. A hand-picked panel by the governor, in my judgement, is not an objective view of how we move forward,” he said. “An objective view is a bipartisan committee listening to expert testimonies from both sides of the aisle. I haven’t examined closely his panel, but I can’t sit around waiting for a panel to make recommendations to the governor.”

It’s not clear if the minority leader’s call for the legislature to look into how the state ought to reopen will go anywhere.

While Bramnick has spoken with Coughlin, those talks don’t look like they’ll result in a narrowly-focused legislative committee.

“At this point, he’s not inclined to move forward,” the minority leader said. “He has his own panel. I thought Senate President Sweeney was more sympathetic to my idea.”

Sweeney has tapped Senate Budget Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo (D-Woodridge) and Senate Republican Budget Officer Steve Oroho (R-Franklin) to liaise with the governor’s office on the state’s recovery, though he has yet to form any broader legislative panel to tackle the same issue.

Such a panel could provide a greater degree of transparency over what’s guiding the state’s reopening.

Members of Murphy’s recovery commission are not required to file financial disclosures. The commission is not meeting publicly, and communications between its members likely won’t be subject to disclosure under the Open Public Records Act.

While the OPRA issue would remain largely unchanged because of a broad exemption provided to legislators, statehouse hearings — even remote ones — would put some of the state’s preparations in the public view.

It’s possible the public will actually take an interest in the proceedings.

“We’ve had some boring hearings in the state of New Jersey. We’ve had hundreds of hours of boring hearings,” Bramnick said. “I think we can have some hearings that people are really seriously interested in listening to.”

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