NJ Democrats decline to limit Murphy’s pandemic power
When lawmakers rejected Gov. Phil Murphy's request to extend his pandemic powers on Monday, many hailed it as an act of defiance by the Legislature.
Murphy had requested the Legislature extend his powers beyond the Jan. 11 deadline, but declined to do so after the governor announced his controversial school mask mandate would remain in effect regardless. Members of the public began calling their legislators to protest.
“This is very upsetting to get these calls while we are here,” outgoing Senate President Sweeney, who lost the November election, said. “We were not informed of them taking this action today, and we will not move these resolutions today.”
However, at the same time, the Democratic leadership rejected a measure that would have severely limited Murphy's power moving forward.
Republican Assemblyman Brian Bergen introduced a bill (A-4147) that would have capped any executive order issued under a public health emergency.
If the bill had passed, any executive order issued by Murphy would have expired in 15 days unless it was extended by the Legislature.
The political reasons are certainly evident. Murphy cannot run for another term. Legislators will have to stand for re-election in two years.
By allowing Murphy to declare a public health emergency, they have the political cover to claim they did not extend Murphy's mask mandate or other pandemic powers.
In an impassioned speech on the Assembly floor, Bergen urged the Democratic majority to pass his bill and make the legislature co-equal in regulating the response to the ongoing pandemic.
"Bill A-4147 is now more necessary than ever," Bergen said. "To protect us from the continual overreach by the governor."
This bill provides that any order, rule, or regulation issued by the Governor pursuant to the “Civil Defense and Disaster Control Act” will terminate on the 15th day after issuance, unless the Legislature approves a greater period of time by way of concurrent resolution. The bill prohibits the Governor from issuing an order, rule, or regulation to the same or substantially same effect as one terminated pursuant to the bill for the same emergency. - Bill Statement/A-4147
The Democratic leadership rejected the bill, and the assembly voted 50-27 along party lines to table it. That effectively killed the effort, as a new bill would have to be introduced now that a new legislative session has begun.
On Tuesday, Murphy did declare a new public health emergency, and extended his mask mandate in school as well as his other executive orders.
Under current law, there is no expiration date for any of the governor's regulations while the public health emergency remains in effect, and Murphy can renew the declaration without legislative consent.
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