New hope to limit Murphy’s pandemic powers in NJ
The power struggle between Gov. Phil Murphy and the state legislature over how best to manage COVID response could be coming to a head.
In recent days, there appears to be some willingness to curb Murphy's broad pandemic powers beyond Republican opposition and in a bi-partisan way.
Democrats have expressed frustration at being shut out of the process for much of the pandemic, but have refused to take legislative action to restore the balance of power.
The biggest pushback came in the waning hours of the last legislative session when outgoing senate president Steve Sweeney pulled a bill that would have extended Murphy's powers beyond the Jan. 15 deadline for them to expire.
However, Republican bills that would have permanently limited executive emergency powers were rejected.
A new bill, sponsored by Sen. Declan O'Scanlon (R-Monmouth), would cap a state of emergency and public-health emergency to 60 days. Any extension would require legislative approval.
In addition, the legislature could cancel either declaration if two-thirds of lawmakers vote to do so.
What gives this bill a chance to at least get a hearing, if not a full vote, is the addition of an influential Democratic co-sponsor.
O'Scanlon tweeted Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) has signed on as co-sponsor.
Gopal has not responded to a request for comment and made no mention of the bill on his social media accounts.
Another sign Democrats might be open to considering such a measure is comments made by new senate president Nick Scutari (D-Union).
O'Scanlon says he believes Scutari and other Democratic leaders are open to discussions.
Scutari told News12 New Jersey there have been discussions, but will likely take a "wait and see" approach before any action.
Gov. Murphy's current public-health emergency declaration will expire in two weeks. If he extends it as COVID metrics are falling back to levels last seen before the December holidays, that could prompt action in the legislature.