TRENTON – State lawmakers plan to try again Thursday to pass legislation extending some of Gov. Phil Murphy’s pandemic powers beyond this month’s planned end of the public health emergency.

A new bill that tightens up the ending for that extension was introduced Tuesday in the Senate and Assembly. The bill is skipping any committee hearings and has been scheduled for full Senate and Assembly votes Thursday afternoon.

“There is a bill that’s up that the speaker is bypassing all committee that actually the public has interest in, and I wish that bill was being heard today in some committee. Unfortunately, it’s being jammed through,” said Assemblyman Brian Bergen, R-Morris. “… The real bill people want to hear is not being heard today in any committee, and that’s a shame.”

The bill is now S3866/A5820, sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, and Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti, D-Hudson.

It includes at least six changes from the earlier legislation:

  • One fewer executive order would be extended to Jan. 1. The bill removes the extension of Executive Order 192, which covers masking, social distancing and other COVID rules in businesses and workplaces.
  • The allowance for the continuation of mitigation rules for masking and social distancing now says they can’t be more restrictive than CDC recommendations unless there is a substantial increase – not just an increase – in hospitalizations or spot positivity. Underlying data isn’t specifically defined, except that a rate of transmission above 1 would also qualify.
  • Civil or criminal immunity related to COVID response that was bestowed by Executive Order 112 or a Department of Health directive would expire Sept. 1 for health care professionals, facilities and systems. It would remain in effect after that date only in connection with COVID vaccinations or testing.
  • Administrative orders, directives and waivers that rely on the order creating the public health emergency would expire Jan. 11, rather than continue until explicitly revoked. Murphy could extend that by 90 days by notifying the Legislature and getting it to pass a resolution that concurs. Any orders governing staffing ratios, overtime, shifts and vacation time would expire earlier, on Sept. 1.
  • The requirement under the Open Public Records Act that public records requests be answered within seven business days won’t apply to records related to the COVID-19 response. A reasonable effort to respond to a request for a government record will be required, as circumstances permit.
  • Authority to continue issuing orders, directives and waivers connected to vaccinations, COVID-19 testing, health resource and personnel allocation, data collection, retention, sharing and access, coordinating local health departments and implementing CDC recommendations will remain in place beyond the end of the health emergency but expire Jan. 11, 2022. Murphy could seek to extend that 90 days, but the Legislature must concur.

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

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