Lawmakers to let Murphy’s emergency power extension expire, school mask mandate may remain
Outgoing Democratic State Senate President Steven Sweeney abruptly torpedoed Gov. Phil Murphy’s request for an extension on his emergency COVID-19 pandemic powers. But this still may not mean the end of the school mask mandate.
Sweeney leaves office Tuesday afternoon following a stunning upset in November where he was defeated by political newcomer Republican Ed Durr.
Sweeney and Murphy have not always gotten along over the last four years and on his last day in office he thwarted the governor one more time.
“We will not move these resolutions today,” Sweeney said regarding Murphy’s extension request.
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The governor had asked for a 90-day extension on some emergency powers, including the school mask mandate. Democrats in the Legislature were ready to give the governor a 45-day extension on some powers like vaccinations and administrative orders, but not masks in schools.
But Murphy said that the “mask mandate in schools will continue for the foreseeable future.” It was a comment that appeared to infuriate some Republican members of the state Senate.
“We are a co-equal branch of government. We got elected on the same say the governor got elected,” said Republican state Sen. Steve Oroho.
“Our phones and our legislative email addresses are blowing up at the moment with people very reasonably asking, ‘What is our role? Are we legislators or are we not?’” said Republican state Sen. Holly Schepisi.
Oroho says that lawmakers need to stand up to the governor.
“It didn't matter what we negotiated. It didn't matter. It's almost saying we don't matter. So unless the Legislature stands up and says we are a co-equal branch of government, they're going to continue to say that,” Oroho said.
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That anger appeared to have moved Sweeney to go against Murphy and his own party.
“We were not informed of them taking this action today. And we will not move these resolutions today,” he said.
Murphy does have the authority to declare a new state of emergency and go back to unilaterally imposing mandates. He can also try to cut a deal with new Senate President Nick Scutari when he takes office Tuesday at 12 p.m.
The school mask mandate and the other emergency powers are all set to expire at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.