NJ Legislature votes to extend development permits due to COVID-19
TRENTON — State lawmakers gave final legislative approval to 13 bills Thursday, including one that would extend development permits six to 12 months beyond the eventual end of the public health emergency.
Legislators also approved $100 million for loans to hospitality businesses, $100 million in housing assistance, $17 million for welfare benefits in a bill that also overhauls the cash-assistance program, expanded delivery of alcoholic beverages and cocktails by restaurants and a plan to encourage furloughs of tens of thousands of public workers while the federal government will subsidize their benefits.
The development bill, S2346/A3919, was the focus of extensive testimony both for and against it in three legislative committees over the past week, but in the end, it sailed to final approval in votes of 79-0 in the Assembly and 36-0 in the Senate.
“This is very important that we grant this permit extension,” said Assemblyman Clinton Calabrese, D-Bergen. “Given the current climate and economic uncertainty, this will help a lot of people when this is over and we can get things started up again quickly.”
“We’re going to need this more than ever after this is over,” said Assemblyman John DiMaio, R-Warren. “We need every job for New Jersey.”
Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, said the extensions are limited in scope.
From the date Gov. Phil Murphy lifts the novel coronavirus state of emergency, state, regional, county and municipal permits, approvals and deadlines are extended six months for projects that were allowed to continue and 12 months for projects that had been ordered to shut down by Murphy’s executive order.
“This bill does not go as far as we did back in 2008, the last time I sponsored the bill,” Sarlo said. “I think this is a delicate balance to protect everyone’s interest but at the same time extend permits for people who perhaps have been hit due to a financial hardship during the pandemic.”
Environmental lobbyist David Pringle said the bill would be New Jersey’s sixth permit extension and the fourth since 2008, when extensions were approved in connection with the Great Depression and later Superstorm Sandy.
“The permits that were granted prior to the COVID pandemic, some of them long ago, might not reflect the best path forward,” said Eric Benson, campaign director for Clean Water Action.”
“Standards change, period,” Pringle said. “But they’re especially changing now. Nobody knows what we’re going to be doing in a post-COVID world, but we’re going to look at things very differently.”
Lobbyist Anthony Pizzutillo said the bill is important because the commercial real-estate industry will want to catch its breath and assess the economy as the pandemic subsides. He predicts there will be “a reinvention of especially the commercial office industry in this state.”
“It is critically important that we take this pause so that we can understand exactly where we’re going and that we can also put in place safety compliances so that the workers and the people involved in construction can work safely,” Pizzutillo said.
Jeff Kolakowski, chief operating officer for the New Jersey Builders Association, said a short extension is necessary.
“Unlike these previous emergencies that necessitated an elongated extension of approvals, we’re hopeful that our current crisis will be short-lived,” Kolakowski said. “However, even though it will be likely a shorter episode, we still need an extension to make our economic recovery quicker, to maintain a pipeline of projects.”
The other bills approved and sent to Murphy are:
- S1990/A2963 Allows member of Board of Public Utilities to serve in unsalaried State government office.
- S2329/A3905 Revises requirements for cash assistance benefits under Work First New Jersey program; appropriates $17 million.
- S2394/A3942 Requires hospital to permit individual to accompany woman during childbirth.
- S2356/A3946 Provides relief to students receiving state financial aid to address special circumstances due to 2020 health state of emergency.
- S2332/A3956 Establishes "2020 New Jersey Emergency Rental Assistance Program"; appropriates $100 million.
- S2371/S3959 Establishes NJ Hospitality Emergency Loan Program in EDA to provide no-interest loans to qualified small hospitality businesses; makes $100 million appropriation to EDA from federal funds for certain small business assistance.
- S2413/A3966 Concerns delivery and sale of alcoholic beverages during declared state of emergency; requires ABC director to notify licensees of certain tax exemptions during emergency.
- S2392/A3969 Allows extension of certain local government timeframes; allows local governments to accept certain payments; allows local governments to conduct certain meetings remotely; adjusts certain property tax distribution and notice requirements.
- S2344/A3970 Requires Medicaid and health insurance coverage for certain refills of prescription drugs during state of emergency.
- S2479/A4131 Requires DOH to establish sanitization guidelines for hotels operating in State.
- S2350/A4132 Concerns benefits provided to workers. (Better known as the 'furlough bill.')
- S2387/A4157 Extends time period for filing and processing certain property tax appeals in 2020.