TRENTON – A scheduled vote on a bill maintaining some of Gov. Phil Murphy’s pandemic-era powers beyond the end of the public health emergency was postponed Thursday.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, said the bill will be considered at a future voting session after it is amended. The next session is currently set for June 21 – so either one will be added sooner, or Gov. Phil Murphy would likely again extend the public health emergency due to expire June 13.

“After speaking with legislative colleagues, advocates and other interested parties I have decided to postpone today’s vote on A-5777 in order to refine it so that it is the fairest and most responsible bill possible,” Coughlin said in a statement. “I am committed to ending the public health emergency. This is extremely important legislation that we must get right.”

The public health emergency was first declared in March, 2020. Murphy reached an agreement with Coughlin and Senate President Steve Sweeney in which the emergency will expire, but 14 executive orders and rules on masking and social distancing can continue through Jan. 1, 2022.

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Republicans applauded the delay and the public pressure and opposition that appeared to drive it.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, said more public input is needed about the pandemic response.

“This was a dangerous attempt to take away to take away the rights of every one of you and giving it to just one person,” Bramnick said. “But I understand the bill will be coming back. So, every citizen must know that if we’re going to keep the three branches of government as they exist that they all should be aware of what I believe is a power grab.”

“As we’ve been saying, we’ve been living under a dictatorship for almost 15 months now, and it’s time for King Phil to get off the throne and let the legislators get back to work,” said Assemblyman Hal Wirths, R-Sussex.

Under the now-stalled bill, the most recent rules regarding masking, social distancing and limits on gathering size can only become less restrictive, unless there are increases in hospitalizations or the spot positivity rate for COVID-19 tests or the rate of transmission – currently 0.46 – returns over 1.

But those terms aren’t defined.

Even as COVID-related hospitalizations have gone from 2,378 on April 7 to 781 as of Wednesday night, there have been occasional days where the total census increased. The test positivity rate climbs slightly every weekend, even as weekly rates trend down.

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