New Jersey’s Republicans in the state Senate announced on Feb. 5 they intend to hold independent hearings beginning March 5 into what they referred to as Gov. Phil Murphy’s “flawed” response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those efforts follow on the heels of a similar committee jointly announced in May by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District and Senate GOP Leader Tom Kean, R-21st District, to scrutinize how Murphy handled the pandemic so far.
That previous announcement came as New Jersey was coming down from the second wave of the pandemic, where Murphy locked down the state to halt the spread of the virus, but the committee efforts ultimately fizzled out. Sweeney’s office could not be reached for comment over the weekend.
“Since May, Senate Republicans have sought a bipartisan investigation to understand the policy and management failures of the Murphy Administration that led to preventable deaths, destroyed businesses and jobs, and left millions of New Jerseyans without access to important services and support,” Kean said in a Friday statement.
Kean said the hearings will carry on “with or without the participation of the Senate Majority.” But without that Democratic support, the committee could never garner subpoena power desired by Kean.
Murphy’s office declined to comment, as did the office of Sweeney’s lower-house counterpart, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District.
The restrictions Murphy enacted over the past year include mask requirements in public, limits on private and public gatherings, and requirements for limited capacity, mask-usage and intense sanitization requirements for indoor businesses.
Many non-essential businesses had to completely shutter their brick and mortar operations during the spring and into the early summer, though many of those have been loosened. A stay-at-home order and ban on non-essential travel was also enacted in the spring, but that was lifted in the summer.
Salons, gyms, restaurants, retail, malls, casinos and theaters suffered painful blows to their finances during the pandemic, and unemployment has soared to record-high levels.
“Main Street shops… weren’t forced out of business by the coronavirus, but by arbitrary restrictions imposed Governor Murphy that made it impossible for them to keep their doors open and pay their employees,” Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-13th District – whose efforts on the committee will look at the effect of the pandemic and Murphy’s response had on businesses – said in the Friday statement.
“We’ll hear from business owners how ridiculous and harmful those executive orders have been, and just how pitiful the State’s relief programs continue to be.”
Sen. Mike Testa, R-1st District, will hone in on the problems with thousands of New Jerseyans getting their unemployment payments, be it constant delays in getting their checks, glitches in the state Labor Department’s antiquated computer system or its bureaucracy, or the inability for claimants to get in touch with a live person to help resolve their claims.
“The Department of Labor… utterly failed to meet the needs of New Jerseyans who rely on their services,” Testa, who was elected in November 2019 and flipped a Democrat-held district from blue to red, said on Friday. “New Jerseyans shouldn’t have to spend days, weeks, and even months trying to access the unemployment benefits they’ve earned.”