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Senate President Steve Sweeney. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Sweeney wants lawmakers to meet in person by end of June

July judicial confirmations can’t be delayed

By Nikita Biryukov, June 17 2020 3:38 pm

Senate President Steve Sweeney wants legislators to be back under the statehouse’s golden dome by the end of June.

“We want to get back into Trenton, yes, but it really is going to be, again, based on if we’re allowed to gather again,” Sweeney told the New Jersey Globe Wednesday.

Lawmakers last conducted business in Trenton on March 19. Then, the Senate held a voting session in the Assembly chambers, and the Senate Judiciary Committee met to consider a slate of nominees.

The public was barred from physically attending both proceedings, and the legislature has since held all its committee meetings and voting sessions remotely.

Currently, indoor gatherings are capped at 50 people, and while Murphy last week announced he expected to further raise limits on outdoor gatherings to 250 on June 22 and 500 on July 3, it’s not clear whether indoor limits will also be relaxed on those dates.

“If we’re getting close to opening casinos … and that’s something that’s getting close and they’re talking the end of the month, the Fourth of July, then it’s pretty hard not to justify getting back to work,” Sweeney said. “But again, we’re going to cooperate with the administration and work in consolidation with the Assembly, but we’d really prefer to be in Trenton. It works better when we’re in person.”

While conference calls and Zoom meetings have allowed lawmakers to continue conducting state business from the safety of their own homes amid a pandemic that has killed nearly 13,000 New Jerseyans, the process has been anything but painless.

In some instances, legislators have left their phones unmuted while carrying out conversations not appropriate for all ages, and technical difficulties have occasionally stalled proceedings.

The remote sessions also move languidly in comparison to the typically breakneck pace of in-person sessions.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin was not prepared to commit to an end-of-June legislative reopening, but it’s a choice that’s clearly on the table.

“We are actively discussing that as an option,” Coughlin spokesman Kevin McArdle said.

The matter may be more pressing for Sweeney, whose chamber is tasked with confirming judicial nominees.

Some of the state’s sitting judges come up for renomination in July. The Senate can’t vote to reconfirm them remotely, meaning the only way to keep a judge on track for tenure is to meet in the statehouse.

“We both have been very anxious to get back,” Sweeney said.

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