Republican lawmaker to introduce bill to limit New Jersey governor’s emergency powers

There are growing calls by Republicans in the state Legislature to limit Gov. Phil Murphy’s emergency powers and give lawmakers more say in the process. The Republicans are united on this front, but will Democrats come on board?
“It seems to me that if you're in a constant state of emergency, it ain't an emergency anymore. It's status quo. And status quo shouldn't be an emergency,” says Republican state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon.
New Jersey has been under a general state of emergency – similar to what's declared during a snowstorm or hurricane – continuously since March of 2020 due to COVID-19. A separate public health emergency that only lasts 30 days was also issued in March 2020 and the governor renewed it every 30 days through June of 2021.
“Having one person essentially in charge, making decisions unilaterally, it’s just not healthy in a democracy,” O’Scanlon says.
The governor cut a deal with the Legislature last year – no more public health emergencies, but lawmakers would approve 15 executive orders on masking, vaccinations and other pandemic powers that would last until Jan. 11, 2022. Murphy had the option of asking for an extension in January. He did last week, but was rebuffed by outgoing Democratic state Senate President Steve Sweeney.
Republicans like O’Scanlon and newcomer state Sen. Edward Durr want to do more to limit Murphy.
“It's time that the Legislature stepped up and played the co-equal branch of government role that it is supposed to be carrying out,” O’Scanlon says.
O'Scanlon will soon introduce a bill that would require the governor to periodically ask the Legislature for permission to continue a state of emergency or public health emergency. It would give the Legislature the power to vote yes or no on any governor.
“Forty-nine other states somehow figured out how to do this better than we do, and include the Legislature in the decision-making process,” O’Scanlon says.
Republicans are still in the minority in Trenton and it remains unclear if new Democratic Senate President Nick Scutari will allow this bill to get to a vote. But O'Scanlon says he wants Democratic lawmakers to side with him.
“We’re going to back everyone into a corner and hopefully they’ll be nobody left in that corner. Hopefully we’ll all be on the same page here and get this done,” O’Scanlon says. “If you’re running away from taking a stand and you’re spineless – tough.”
Murphy's office said Monday it does not comment on pending legislation.
A state of emergency for Superstorm Sandy issued in 2012 by then-Governor Chris Christie, remains in effect.