TRENTON — Restless Republicans are pushing for faster action by the Murphy administration in responding to the economic impact of the novel coronavirus, or at least for the Legislature to begin more active oversight of a prospective reopening.

Assembly Majority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, said he has asked Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate President Steve Sweeney to begin holding virtual hearings at which experts could testify. He said Coughlin declined, citing the formation of his own economic-recovery panel.

“I am deeply concerned that we don’t have enough information flowing out of Trenton to answer the questions of the people,” Bramnick said.

“Now who would we ask questions of? We would take the testimony of experts. I want to include doctors, infectious disease experts and epidemiologists, religious leaders, hospital executive, frontline medical workers,” he said. “And what are we going to ask them? We need to know what can be opened safely. How can we begin to move forward?”

“Now we may have a hearing and we may find out that it’s not possible. But surely this debate should not be behind closed doors,” Bramnick said. “There should not be a debate in the Governor’s Office and then the governor comes out and announces simply, ‘This is how we’re going to proceed.’ Maybe that might be true for a week or two but not three or four months. This is a time the Legislature must get involved and must start examining these questions publicly.”

Gov. Phil Murphy said he has a meeting scheduled for Wednesday with the legislative leadership to discuss state finances and had a conference call with lawmakers Saturday morning. He said he thinks “the communication is high.”

“Jon and I communicate a lot. I think we communicate with our legislative colleagues a lot,” Murphy said. “In fact, I think George (Helmy, his chief of staff) had a call this morning, and we invited all legislators in both chambers, both sides of the aisle to walk through exactly what we’ve done today as it relates to testing.”

In addition to Bramnick’s public push for hearings on Tuesday:

  • Assemblyman Parker Space, R-Sussex, joined with the Democratic mayor of Branchville, Tony Frato, to support a bill, the "Healthy Citizens and Healthy Business Act,” that would allow businesses to open if they comply with all rules and regulations from the New Jersey Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
  • Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, published a “Framework for Health, Liberty and Prosperity in a COVID-19 Impacted New Jersey” that urges the state not to micromanage the economic recovery.
  • Lawmakers from South Jersey’s 1st Legislative District criticized Murphy for saying the economic reopening will happen on a statewide basis, not regionally. They say their area isn’t densely populated and relies on tourism for 60% of jobs in the area.

A new poll suggests that only a minority of the public shares those types of concerns.

The latest Eagleton-Rutgers Poll finds 66% of New Jerseyans feel the state is moving to lift restrictions and reopen businesses at the right pace. Nineteen percent say it’s happening too quickly, and 16% say it’s moving too slowly.

Bramnick said the public wants to hear from experts, not politicians including Murphy, his Cabinet officials and Democratic members of Congress that have on occasion took part in daily briefings.

“People will watch that. They want to hear that. They’re desperate to hear that,” Bramnick said.

“It’s absolutely imperative to have these ongoing hearings,” he said. “We’ve had some boring hearings in the state of New Jersey. We’ve had hundreds of hours of boring hearings. I think we can have some hearings that people are really serious interested in listening to.”

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