As NJ health emergency ends, some Murphy powers extend to Jan. 1
UPDATE on Thursday, May 20: Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin postponed the scheduled vote "in order to refine it so that it is the fairest and most responsible bill possible."
TRENTON – A bill ending many of the executive orders Gov. Phil Murphy has issued during the public health emergency this summer, though keeping some key ones in effect potentially through the end of December, is scheduled for approval in the full Assembly Thursday.
The Senate could pass the bill June 3, though its timetable wasn’t exactly clear Wednesday.
Murphy and legislative leaders reached an agreement last week in which Murphy will not again extend the COVID-19 public health emergency, which he first declared in March 2020, by another 30 days when it expires June 13. However, certain powers bestowed by the emergency will remain in effect.
The bill, A-5777, keeps 14 pandemic-era executive orders active until Jan. 1, unless Murphy revokes them sooner, and has the others expire 30 days after the bill is signed into law.
It also says the most recent rules regarding masking, social distancing and limits on gathering size can only become less restrictive, unless there are increases in hospitalizations or the spot positivity rate for COVID-19 tests or the rate of transmission – currently 0.5 – returns over 1.
Assemblyman Brian Bergen, R-Morris, said the bill doesn’t do much, despite expectations it would end Murphy’s executive order authority. Among the orders staying in place are ones extending an eviction and foreclosure removal moratorium and extending the general COVID-19 mitigation measures.
“It boggles my mind. It basically gives the governor everything he wants. Gives the Legislature no more authority than we had before. And keeps in place a lot of the things that are crippling our economy,” Bergen said.
“It gives the governor essentially all the powers of having a health emergency without him having a health emergency,” he said.
Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, said it’s impossible to know the future course of the virus and that quickly removing all of the orders right away would be ill-advised.
“This bill is threading the needle, removing those things which can be removed while preserving authorities which very well may be needed in the future,” Conaway said.
Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, D-Essex, said COVID numbers are moving in the right direction and that a good summer is coming – but that the state must remain guarded against a virus rebound and questions about how long vaccines are effective.
“I don’t think though that it’s at the right time for us to just say that COVID is completely over. I think that there’s still a lot of things that are unknown,” Pintor Marin said.
Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso, R-Monmouth, said the bill needs to provide access to health data, prevent decisions like Motor Vehicle Commission agency closures and limit social distancing and masks at workplaces and youth camps.
“I think those things need to be changed. This doesn’t change much of anything,” DiMaso said.
Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, conceded that “there’s a great demand of our citizens for this to be over” and that Murphy’s reopening pace is facing criticism in many quarters.
“This legislation formalizes a voice that we’re hearing that we want certain steps taken,” Burzichelli said. “So, is it everything everyone would like to have? It probably isn’t.”
The following executive orders could remain in effect through the end of December:
- Executive Order 106: Moratorium on removals of individuals due to evictions or foreclosures
- Executive Order 111: Directing health care facilities to report data, including PPE inventory and bed capacity, on a daily basis
- Executive Order 112: Remove barriers to health care professionals joining New Jersey's COVID-19 response and provide protections for front line health care responders
- Executive Order 123: Extending insurance premium grace periods
- Executive Order 127: Extending certain deadlines associated with rulemaking
- Executive Order 150: Outdoor dining protocols and process to expand premises for liquor license holders
- Executive Order 159: Extending certain statutory deadlines across state government
- Executive Order 170: Extending certain statutory deadlines across state government
- Executive Order 178: Extending certain statutory deadlines across state government
- Executive Order 192: Protect new jersey’s workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Executive Order 207: Enrolling residents who choose to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in the new jersey immunization information system
- Executive Order 229: Extending utility shutoff moratorium through June 30, 2021
- Executive Order 233: Provides all stimulus payments issued to New Jerseyans under the American Rescue Plan act to be exempt from, and will not be subject to, garnishment by private creditors and debt collectors
- Executive Order 237: Permitting summer youth overnight and day camps for the 2021 season
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.