Gov. Phil Murphy approved a bill and executive order ending the COVID-19 public health emergency and letting 140 orders in place since March 2020 expire in 30 days.
Murphy will be able to keep in place 14 key wartime powers in order to continue the state’s vaccination efforts and respond to any future COVID-19 outbreaks.
He will lose many of those other powers granted under the public health emergency and those ensuing orders.
Over these past 15 months, the orders have touched every aspect of life in the state in a bid to halt the spread of the pandemic: mask mandates in public, limits on public and private gatherings, mandated closures and restrictions on businesses and bans on non-essential travel.
But the new measures are meant to phase the state out of the COVID-19 pandemic and toward its economic recovery, as the pandemic wanes, infection rate drops, vaccinations are ramped up, and reopenings for businesses take effect, lifting social distancing and mask mandates.
Murphy, in a June 4 statement, called the measures “a clear and decisive step on the path toward normalcy.”
“[N]ow is the right time to take this action, particularly as the final limits on gatherings are lifted tomorrow,” reads a joint statement issued on June 3, by Murphy, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, issued shortly after the bill was approved by the full state Legislature.
The bill was passed in both the state Senate and Assembly on June 3, but met heavy opposition from conservative protestors who demonstrated outside the statehouse building that day, and GOP lawmakers who said that the state Legislature needed to reign in Murphy’s powers.
Murphy and top lawmakers contend that the bill is needed in order to grant the flexibility to the administration to respond to the tail end of the pandemic.
“I don’t want to have anything to do, as a legislator, when it comes to vaccines and testing, because I am not the expert in that area,” Sweeney told reporters following the June 3 Senate session.
“You might not like the health commissioner, you might like the health commissioner, but they have epidemiologists and they have all the professionals over there and they’re the ones that should be making those decisions,” he said.
The new laws keep Murphy from ordering new facemask and social distancing requirements if they’re stricter than what the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have in place.
He would be able to continue a moratorium on evictions and utility shut-offs, and required hospital data-sharing on COVID-19 numbers and heightened COVID-19 workplace safety standards and vaccines.
Restaurants will be allowed to continue outdoor dining while towns and cities would be able to shut down streets for that purpose. Legal immunity will remain for hospitals and long-term care centers through Sept. 1.
The administrative order, directives and waivers enacted under the public health emergency lapse on Jan. 11, and Murphy will have to notify lawmakers by Jan. 1, 2022, if he hopes to extend any of them for another 90 days. After that, lawmakers would need to pass a resolution codifying whatever Murphy is seeking.
Murphy’s administration will oversee vaccination efforts, testing and data collection through Jan. 11, and he could ask lawmakers for a 90-day extension.