Will Gov. Murphy Extend Health Emergency in NJ?
Will Gov. Phil Murphy extend his public health emergency declaration beyond next week?
Murphy offered no hint as to what he would do at Wednesday's COVID briefing.
"No news to break," Murphy said, "We want to do this always in a smart, responsible way."
The governor conceded the COVID numbers New Jersey is seeing right now are encouraging, "Trends that we continue to see across literally all metrics suggest that the omicron tsunami, as fast as it washed in, is washing out at nearly the same speed."
Whether that will be enough for Murphy to give up the extraordinary powers he reclaimed with the declaration remains to be seen.
Under the Emergency Health Powers Act, the Public Health Emergency expires after 30 days, unless renewed by Murphy.
The governor is under increasing pressure from Republicans and some Democrats to let the emergency declaration expire and start rolling back COVID restrictions.
Murphy says he will be meeting with legislative leaders today. Throughout the pandemic, he has rarely consulted with leadership beyond more than a courtesy.
That could be changing as support builds for a bill that would limit how long Murphy, or future governors, could claim a public health emergency.
Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, has introduced a measure, S-1200, that would limit the duration of a state of emergency to 60 days unless an extension is authorized by the Legislature. It also would limit a public health emergency declaration to a total of 60 days unless the Legislature approves an extension.
Democratic Senator Vin Gopal has signed on to that bill as a co-prime sponsor.
Will the bill get a vote?
That is unclear. While bi-partisan support is building, the new Senate President, Nick Scutari, said he would "a wait and see approach" before making that determination. Scutari says he wants to see what Murphy does before taking action.
Where are we now?
Murphy declared this current health emergency a day after the legislature rejected his request for an extension of pandemic powers they granted last June when the original declaration expired. At the time, Murphy said state COVID-19 metrics would be re-evaluated to determine if an extension will be needed.
On Wednesday, the governor said "we had no choice" to declare a new emergency as COVID metrics spiked.
Even with the numbers dropping, Murphy said, "None of us are at a place where we feel completely comfortable. We saw last winter how the numbers can quickly turn back around and we do not want to test that theory with omicron, so we have to remain on a vigilant footing."
If Murphy does renew the public health emergency, that could be enough to prompt frustrated lawmakers to act to curb his authority.
However, Murphy does hold the final decision on the matter. Even if the O'Scanlon/Gopal bill is passed, Murphy would have to sign it to make it law.
Didn't have to happen
Ironically, all of this could have been avoided if the legislature had just agreed to extend the powers they granted Murphy last June.
Included in that extension, were safeguards to prevent Murphy from exceeding Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines with new or existing mandates.
Under those rules, Murphy would have been prevented from toughening his vaccine mandates for healthcare workers and corrections officers.