Electronic meetings may keep NJ governments going in pandemic
Just as the coronavirus is wreaking havoc with public health, schools and the economy, it’s also scrambling governments from the local to federal levels.
At the Statehouse, the Assembly doesn’t plan on returning until at least May, while the Senate plans a Thursday session before starting its own hiatus.
The Assembly is starting its annual budget break early and isn’t sure when it will be back. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said it will determine a procedure for budget hearings to be held without gathering in Trenton.
“We’re going to figure out ways for them to continue to take testimony because the work of the government is going to continue on. We’re not going to stop. We may not be here meeting,” said Coughlin, D-Middlesex.
“If we need to come back for some urgent matters, well then we’ll do that,” he said. “And if not then we’ll be here back as soon as it makes sense given the circumstances after consulting with public health officials.”
Among the bills passed Monday were ones allowing the Legislature, local governments and other public bodies to meet electronically during an emergency. Other bills would extend the deadlines for candidate filings, county and municipal budgets and responding to public records requests.
Coughlin and Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, were pleased that they had worked together through the weekend – and well into Monday afternoon, when amendments were still being made – to come up with a 29-bill package that was mostly bipartisan.
In all, the bills received a combined 1,819 votes in favor and just 12 votes against them, with an additional 49 votes to abstain. Coughlin felt that was an important message to send.
“This disease has hammered home to everybody we’re all in this together,” Coughlin said. “This truly doesn’t know stripes of any shape or size.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.