Hours after Gov. Phil Murphy asserted that he was in productive discussion with legislative leaders about extending his emergency Covid powers, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) announced that the Senate will not pass a resolution preventing the powers from expiring tomorrow night.
“We were not informed of [the governor’s office] taking this action today, and we will not move these resolutions today,” Sweeney said to applause from Republicans in the Senate chamber.
Murphy first requested the extension last week, saying that it was necessary amid the ongoing Omicron variant surge. The governor has previously used his Covid powers to implement vaccine and mask mandates in schools and other settings without the formal consent of the legislature.
Earlier today, Murphy reaffirmed his desire to maintain the state school mask mandate using emergency powers, and said he was working with legislative leadership to make sure those powers continued.
“I don’t have a specific construct for you, but we’re working very cooperatively with the legislative leadership to make sure we’ve got a good path forward, particularly given the overwhelming tsunami [of cases] we’re dealing with,” he said.
Following Murphy’s statements, a number of Senate Republicans said that they received a large amount of feedback from constituents urging them to reject the extension, and argued that Murphy’s request amounted to circumventing a coequal branch of government.
“The governor’s office has moved the goalposts so many times that we’re no longer playing the same sport,” State Sen. Michael Testa (R-Vineland) said. “This body has not been given the respect it deserves. We have not been part of the conversation. We need to stand up and make sure that our voices are heard, and our constituents’ voices are heard.”
Shortly after the Senate declined to proceed with the resolutions, the Assembly confirmed that they will do the same. Now, with his powers expiring in just over 24 hours, Murphy could continue working to forge a deal with legislative leadership – or he could unilaterally declare another public health emergency.