TRENTON — A conservative lawmaker on Saturday lobbed a new criticism at Gov. Phil Murphy, likening him to a "king" for expanding financial protections for renters during the pandemic.

State Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Warren, said Murphy's executive order on Friday, which allows renters to apply to have their security deposits count toward rent, is unconstitutional.

""We have a governor, and not a king," Doherty said in a written statement. "On a daily basis, Gov. Phil Murphy continues to eviscerate the New Jersey Constitution."

Doherty argues that the order violates a provision of the state constitution that prohibits the Legislature from passing laws that undo existing contracts. Doherty said the order "tears up" leases, which are contracts between tenants and landlords.

Senator Michael J. Doherty
State Sen. Michael J. Doherty

He said that ending the "shut down of the state's economy ... is the best way to help renters and homeowners pay their bills."

"The residents of New Jersey need to stand up to King Murphy and end this recklessness," he said.

Murphy has previously said that he could not declare a freeze on rents because he cannot change contracts such as leases. Murphy, however, did issue an order pausing all evictions, although renter will still be responsible for what they owe.

The executive order still allows landlords to demand a new security deposit when renewing the lease and allows landlords at the end of a lease to recover any expenses that they would have been entitled to keep from the security deposit.

The order cites the historic levels of unemployment in the state.

Doherty has been one of the most pointed critics of Murphy. Earlier this month, Doherty said he could not longer support the stay-at-home orders, which health officials say have been key to limiting the spread of the coronavirus and preventing hospitals from overflowing.

Last week, Doherty argued that religion should be considered an "essential service." Most religious leaders have been supportive of the pandemic orders.

A poll released this week by Monmouth University found that nearly 2 out of 3 adults in New Jersey support the measures that Murphy has taken. The poll found that twice as many believe the state hasn't gone far enough in its restrictions as those who believe the state went too far.

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