The emergency orders expire Jan. 11 unless lawmakers send Murphy a bill to extend them. The governor asked lawmakers to approve a 90-day extension amid the omicron COVID-19 surge.
Lawmakers instead gave him a 45-day extension, and without several proposals he sought, such as the ability to implement federal COVID-19 guidelines on masking, testing and vaccinations. Without the extension, the governor would have to declare another state of emergency to once again have the authority to require masks in schools. Murphy’s office declined to comment for this story.
“This is very upsetting, to get these calls while we’re here,” outgoing Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, said of parent complaints about the mask mandates.
“We were not informed of them taking this action today, and we will not move these resolutions today,” he continued, drawing applause from several members of the room.
Murphy announced earlier in the day that he would extend the school mask mandate “for some amount of time,” in response to a COVID-19 surge driven by the omicron variant, holiday gatherings and colder weather forcing more people indoors.
“We have to learn to live with this,” Sweeney – who will vacate his senate seat on Jan. 11 after an upset defeat – told reporters after the voting session. “You go in a restaurant, the places are packed. People move beyond this.”
The pandemic restrictions in place since March 2020 had all been wielded unilaterally by Murphy, and gradually drew fatigue both from lawmakers and members of the public. “It’s just disrespectful to make an announcement like that without informing us,” the Senate President added. “You know, we are an equal branch of government.”
Both figures often traded barbs during Murphy’s first two years in office, but as the pandemic hit, and reelection campaigns loomed, relationships began to warm between the two.
The state has, for the first time during the pandemic, seen more than 30,000 daily positive cases. Total hospitalizations meanwhile are surging to levels not seen since the early days of the public health emergency in the spring of 2020.
Many Republicans tore into Murphy before Sweeney addressed the state Senate on the matter, and said that the governor had completely bypassed the constitutional authority granted to the legislative branch.
State Sen. Holly Schepisi, R-39th District, said it was “a bit unconscionable that the governor feels comfortable circumventing each and every one of us.” Multiple other Republicans lamented that their offices had been bombarded with phone calls from parents upset or confused with the Monday news.
Under a deal Murphy and top Democratic leadership struck last May, the governor’s pandemic-related emergency powers were slated to expire on Jan. 11, unless lawmakers sent him a bill to extend them.
But, whereas the governor wanted a 90-day extension to respond to the mounting omicron surge, lawmakers were only willing to go an additional 45 days. And, the legislation also scales back some of Murphy’s other key requests, spanning 120 waivers, administrative orders, directives and other government actions involving almost a dozen agencies.
Those include orders put out by the New Jersey Department of Health regarding testing and looser rules for health care staffing; one that lets the Department of Banking and Insurance block copays for COVID-19 tests, vaccines and other care; one expanding health insurer’s reimbursement; orders that allow municipal boards to meet remotely; and others that allow professional licensing requirements to be conducted online rather than in person.
They also allow hospitals greater flexibility with staffing and operations during the pandemic, which they’ve argued are necessary to function in such a public health reality.
Murphy has repeatedly vowed to not enact new COVID-19 restrictions on businesses, meanwhile local municipalities across the state are requiring masks in most public places.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 9:40 p.m. EST on Jan. 10, 2021, to include details regarding the differences between Gov. Phil Murphy’s requested powers and what lawmakers put into the legislation and additional remarks from Senate President Stephen Sweeney.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]