The state Assembly fast-tracked a host of bills aimed at alleviating the economic impact the coronavirus outbreak could have on businesses across in New Jersey – part of a package of 21 bills and two resolutions approved Monday.
Tens of thousands of businesses across the New Jersey are scaling back hours in response to curfews, or closing their doors indefinitely, in a bid to promote the kind of “social distancing” that proponents argue starves the virus of an opportunity to spread to new hosts.
The Monday proposals would enact legal protections for both employees and business owners.
One measure, Assembly Bill 3844, which would have required business interruption insurance to cover business lost from a pandemic, was pulled.
Also on Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy ordered the indefinite closure of any theaters, casinos, gyms, bars and restaurants. Businesses during the day can stay open as long as occupancy stays below 50 people.
Bergen County, the hardest-hit county in the state, on Monday evening ordered the closure of its malls, shopping centers and offices.
As of that day, the total virus count in the state was 178 cases, including three fatalities.
“The coronavirus is a concern globally, and in New Jersey, we are committed to making sure residents and businesses are prepared and equipped to continue to live and work as we continue through this pandemic,” Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, D-31st District, who chairs the Assembly Homeland Security where the bills were heard in the morning, said in a Monday statement.
Murphy did not indicate his stance on the bills, taking his oft-cited route to not comment on pending legislation.
“Conceptually, some of them are completely consistent with what we’re talking about and doing 24 hours a day,” he said during a phone briefing with reporters on March 15.
Many of the bills approved Monday in the Assembly would take some of the pressure off of business owners as they see their profits drop and consider whether to scale back operations, cut hours and let go of employees.
Assembly Bill 3845 lets the Economic Development Authority award specialized funding to businesses only during a state of emergency, such as the existing public health emergency, in order to help keep operations running as they see slumps in their revenue.
“Providing access to loans will give small businesses an additional resource they can use to maintain their operations and pay their employees as we get through the days ahead,” reads a joint statement from several Assembly Democrats.
Assembly Bill 3841 enacts a tax holiday for the income and corporate business taxes, which would last as long as the federal tax extension, no later than June 30, 2020—the last day Murphy can sign the state budget to avoid a government shutdown.
“Allowing more time to file can help many of those who need to go into a tax service in person, as well as giving flexibility to owners who may face some disruption in their businesses,” reads a joint statement from several Assembly Democrat sponsors.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, unveiled such a recommendation over the weekend, extending it to the sales tax as well, part of a dozen proposals to aid businesses during the coronavirus crisis.
But Murphy said he was wary about just how much money the state could lose out on by loosening how much tax dollars it collects from businesses.
Assembly Bill 3846 creates a $20 million unemployment insurance program that would compensate workers for wages lost while in quarantine as a result of the outbreak— and businesses that had to cover pay for any such worker.
“We would never want someone with COVID-19 to feel like they need to go to work because they have no other options, and therefore risk the health of themselves and others,” reads a joint statement from several Assembly Democrat bill sponsors. “With this legislation, they will have another option.
Assembly Bill 3848 would bar employers from terminating workers who take off from work to recover from a suspected case of coronavirus. Meanwhile, Assembly Bill 3859 would allow the governor to order a freeze on any evictions or foreclosures during a state of emergency.
Sen. Troy Singleton, D-7th District, said Monday afternoon that he would introduce a similar measure in the upper house. Though his measure would also bar rent increases and any changes to mortgages, during the state of emergency.
“The measures we can put in place will allow folks to modify the terms of their mortgage payments and prohibit rent increases to prevent evictions and foreclosures so we can protect people from becoming homeless in the face of this unprecedented public health crisis,” Singleton said in a prepared statement.