Lawmakers pull bill to end COVID-19 public health emergency following backlash

In the face of backlash, state lawmakers pulled a bill one hour before it came up for a vote that would have ended the state's COVID-19 public health emergency, but allowed Gov. Phil Murphy to keep 15 executive orders.

News 12 Staff

May 20, 2021, 10:47 PM

Updated 1,093 days ago

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In the face of backlash, state lawmakers pulled a bill one hour before it came up for a vote that would have ended the state's COVID-19 public health emergency, but allowed Gov. Phil Murphy to keep 15 executive orders.
Democratic Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin postponed the vote to an unspecified date.
"I am committed to ending the public health emergency. This is extremely important legislation that we must get right,” Coughlin said in a statement.
Republicans, who are outnumbered by Democrats in the Legislature, had been vigorously opposed to the bill since it was unveiled Tuesday.
“It's three branches and the state of emergency is going on. We're in our 15th month and [Gov. Murphy] is likely to keep this thing going on forever without any input from the public,” says Republican Assemblyman Hal Wirths.
Republicans say that the bill will give the governor too much power, and that lawmakers should be consulted as the pandemic response winds down.
“These are not decisions that need to be made in one hour,” says Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick.
“Seems like a cumbersome process where you need a nimble process to respond to changing events. At the same time, you don't want a king,” says John Weingart, director of the Rutgers Eagleton Center.
Weingart says that New Jersey’s governorship is already the most powerful in the country.
“It's as good an example you can find as to why the governor needs emergency powers,” he says. “Whether or not he should have lifted a mandate on one day or another is debatable, but the fact that it's one centralized person who stands over a large, talented bureaucracy, health department, among other agencies, to me, makes sense.”
But some Republicans say that Murphy has too much power.
“Yes, he has the power. But do we want - if we're going to do that, you might as well send all the legislators home,” Wirths says.
The Murphy administration has argued the legislation is for powers the governor needs to keep during the pandemic, like regulating face masks and keeping the eviction moratorium in place, as well as keeping the state's vaccination program up and running,
“It does seem like an issue where the two parties should have the same position, or largely the same position,” says Weingart.
No date has been set for the Assembly to consider a new version of the bill. The state Senate had been set to vote on it on June 3.


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