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State Sen. Michael L. Testa, Jr. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

Republican bill would force state workers back to their offices

Unclear whether bill will move despite agreement from some Democrats

By Nikita Biryukov, May 10 2021 3:16 pm

Republican lawmakers introduced a bill that would require state workers to return to their offices for what could be the first time in more than a year if their job requires them to interact with the public in-person.

“We continue to hear from constituents who have been waiting month after month to get their unemployment payments,” said State Sen. Michael Testa (R-Vineland). “Inexcusable delays are taking a toll on families, and in many cases, the problems could be worked out with a face-to-face discussion with a Department of Labor specialist.”

The bill, sponsored by Testa and State Sen. Holly Schepisi (R-River Vale) in the upper chamber, would require workers at the Department of Labor and Workforce Development and other state agencies to come to work in-person.

“In many cases, showing up in 90 percent of the job,” Assemblyman Antwan McClellan (R-Ocean City) said. “It is unacceptable that state employees who work directly with the public are not back in the office. This is a common sense legislation that will help our state fully re-open and provide the necessary government services our residents deserve.”

McClellan and Assemblyman Erik Simonsen (R-Lower) are sponsoring the measure in the Assembly.

The legislation comes amid growing discontent over public-sector remote work that lawmakers say has pushed more residents to seek aid from legislative offices.

Gov. Phil Murphy has not said when state workers might return to their offices, though he said in April it could be a matter of months.

The dissatisfaction with state employees’ remote work extends to some Democratic lawmakers, though it’s not clear whether they are prepared to overrule Murphy on the matter.

Democrats have so far resisted Republican calls to curb the governor’s executive authority, and it’s not likely they’ll make an about face with legislative and gubernatorial races looming.

“Constantly, we are hearing from countless businesses and families struggling to reach someone from New Jersey’s state departments and agencies,” Simonsen said. “People need help from the state, and there is nowhere else for them to turn. It’s well past time to return to normal and get state employees who need to be in person back at their desks.”

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