Businesses that incur losses due to closures ordered in connection with the public health emergency should be able to seek compensation from the state, eight Republican lawmakers say in a proposed bill.

The bill, S3060/A4849, would liken a business closure due a health emergency to a public purpose and allow business owners to go to court to compel the state to compensate them for their loss of income or for going out of business.

“I’ve talked to numerous – as we all have, I’m sure – a lot of business owners who are bearing the brunt of the governor’s executive orders. He issues an order and that terminates their livelihood or suspends it indefinitely at times,” said Assemblyman Greg McGuckin, R-Ocean. “Just seems to me if government is going to take that position, then government should be responsible to cover their damages.”

McGuckin likened it to the state wanting to expand a road and needing to take a portion of a business parking lot to do it. He said the land owner is compensated for the taking for that public good.

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“That’s essentially what this is,” he said. “They’re taking businesses, their ability to make a living, for the public good, but they don’t want to pay them for the benefit of the public. And that just seems wrong to me.”

Coronavirus cases are on the rise in New Jersey, with more than one-fourth of all the known infections in the state since March recorded in the last 26 days.

The state has halted indoor food and drink service after 10 p.m. and still allows only a 25% capacity in restaurants, and it is allowing local governments to adopt 8 p.m. curfews for nonessential businesses. It hasn’t imposed more sweeping shutdowns like in did in the spring, but Gov. Phil Murphy has said he reserves the right to do so if infections surge further.

McGuckin said he’s “very concerned about that” but that the proposed bill would give business owners a chance to prove their case in court, if it came to that.

“We’re just ruling by executive order, no public hearings, no transparency, and closing people’s livelihoods to the point where another time. If this happens again, we’re going to lose hundreds of businesses in this state forever,” McGuckin said.

“And before the state takes action to stop people from making a living, the state would have to consider: What’s it going to cost the rest of the state to pay for that? And that’s the whole point, really. If we’re doing this for the public good and the public’s going to benefit from it, well then the public should be responsible to pay that cost.”

As written, the bill would be retroactive to the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

It is unlikely to get a committee hearing, as Democrats control the Legislature and decide which bills are posted for consideration.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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