NJ Lawmakers, Residents Stand Against Extension of Governor’s Pandemic-Related Executive Powers

By Ella Kietlinska
Ella Kietlinska
Ella Kietlinska
Reporter
Ella Kietlinska is a New York-based reporter for The Epoch Times.
June 8, 2021 Updated: June 8, 2021

New Jersey’s Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law on Friday a bill that would end the public health emergency declared 15 months ago due to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic but would also extend some of the governor’s pandemic-related powers until 2022.

“This legislation ensures that the Administration has the tools and flexibility necessary to continue vaccination and testing efforts, ensure protections for vulnerable populations, and oversee and coordinate the health care system to address this ongoing threat,” Murphy, New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D), and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D) said in a joint statement.

The bill was introduced by Coughlin and Sweeney in both Houses of the New Jersey Legislature after the Memorial Day long weekend, fast-tracked, and passed by both the New Jersey Assembly and Senate two days later with no Republican support.

The legislation received backlash from New Jerseyans opposed to the extension of executive powers for the governor. They protested outside the state House in Trenton, New Jersey, on June 3. Several New Jersey lawmakers spoke against the bill at a rally organized by the protesters.

New Jersey Assemblyman Jay Webber (R), who voted against the bill, said on Twitter, “The bill was added to the agenda late Friday before a long weekend, and the text wasn’t available until late Tuesday.”

New Jersey Sen. Steven Oroho (R) proposed a “hostile amendment” to the bill to immediately end the public health emergency and to strip the governor of the power to spend federal relief funds without legislative oversight, according to a statement on his website.

The amendment, however, was blocked by the New Jersey Senate’s Democrat majority.

Oroho criticized the bill in his speech during a debate on the Senate floor, saying that “the bill would end the public health emergency in name only.”

He warned that the measure would allow Murphy to keep in place his executive orders and restrictions, such as a mandate for children to wear masks until next year although kids face very little risk of infection.

child-masking-after-lunch
A child puts her mask back on after finishing lunch at a socially distanced table in the cafeteria of Medora Elementary School in Louisville, Ky., on March 17, 2021. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

More than 10,000 New Jerseyans have signed a petition urging Murphy to “unmask” their children.

Oroho added that the mandates being kept in place by the governor are “unnecessary” because “infection rates are plummeting and signs of the virus are rapidly disappearing.”

Oroho also pointed out that the bill will adversely impact landlords by extending the moratorium on evictions until the next year. “People who own rental properties, for example, would have to wait until next year to seek relief for tenants who haven’t paid rent.”

However, landlords are “still forced to pay their [property] tax bills every quarter with no relief,” he said.

The legislation also does not address what critics say has been a lack of transparency by the Murphy administration in preventing residents from obtaining records and documents about the deaths of family members in nursing homes and veterans homes in the state, Oroho said.

“If this bill becomes law, [thousands of families] may never get the answers they deserve.”

Oroho demanded legislative oversight on the governor’s spending of the federal relief funds, claiming that $2.4 billion in CARES Act funds has already been misspent and not used to effectively help struggling New Jerseyans. More than a third of small businesses have disappeared and two million people have lost their jobs due to lockdowns in New Jersey, Oroho pointed out.

Without oversight, the new federal funds that have just been sent to New Jersey could be misspent, the Senator said.

New Jersey Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D), who also sponsored the bill, said in a statement to local media, “The science and data show us that it is time to end the public health emergency.” However, 13 out of 120 pandemic-related executive orders will remain in place under the new laws.

“This bill offers a reasonable and pragmatic approach to ending the health emergency,” Chiaravalloti said.

The new legislation requires any rules related to masks, social distancing, and gathering be no stronger than CDC guidance. However, if a substantial increase in hospitalizations, infections, or the rate of COVID-19 transmission occurs, the rules can be more restrictive, the bill stipulated.

New Jersey Sen. Kip Bateman (R) also criticized the bill, telling in the Senate: “there’s a reason why there are three equal branches of government and there’s a reason why democracy works so well when the people are involved.”

“This bill was not properly vetted. This bill should have been in committee. It should have had an opportunity to hear from the public; these are very important issues,” Bateman said, adding that his office has received hundreds of phone calls and emails from parents concerned that their children will have to continue to wear masks for seven to eight hours a day.

The Epoch Times has reached out to the Office of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy for comment.

Ella Kietlinska
Ella Kietlinska
Reporter
Ella Kietlinska is a New York-based reporter for The Epoch Times.