Legislature’s summer plans could force Murphy’s hand on unsigned bills

Summer sessions could trigger constitutional provision, make bills law without governor’s signature

By: - July 8, 2022 7:10 am

Gov. Phil Murphy signs a legislative package to strengthen New Jersey’s gun laws on July 5, 2022. (Photo by Edwin J. Torres/NJ Governor’s Office)

Top lawmakers’ plans to return to Trenton this summer to address the state’s judicial vacancies and enact more gun laws could cause headaches for Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration by invoking a constitutional provision that could enact some bills without his signature.

In New Jersey, bills that sit on the governor’s desk for 45 days become law at noon on the day their chamber of origin next calls a quorum.

Usually, that piece of the state constitution is of little concern, even when lawmakers pass wide swaths of legislation before their customary summer break, as they did in late June. But the prospect of legislators returning to the Statehouse in July or August could complicate things.

Four bills that passed both chambers as of May 26 will meet the 45-day threshold on Monday, meaning each of those bills could become law if they are not signed or vetoed when the Senate convenes to advance judicial nominations this summer.

The Senate’s judiciary committee plans to hold one or two meetings this summer, and the full chamber is expected to meet at least once during that same period. None of those meetings have been scheduled.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) has said his chamber may return during the summer to take up gun control legislation it did not pass by July 1, though those meetings likewise remain unscheduled.

Complicating matters further is Gov. Phil Murphy’s out-of-state travel. The governor departed New Jersey on July 5 for a family vacation in Italy. He’ll return to the United States July 15 to be sworn in as chair of National Governors Association in Maine but won’t return to New Jersey until July 20.

But governor’s travel isn’t necessarily a hurdle. Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who is serving as acting governor while Murphy is gone, has signed bills before and could veto them as well.

Comparatively few bills will meet the 45-day threshold in July. Ten bills, four from the Senate and six from the Assembly, will have sat on the governor’s desk for 45 days come July 31, besides the four Senate bills that will meet the bar Monday.

Those bills include measures that would set aside funds for environmental infrastructure projects in the fiscal year that began last Friday, launch an electric school bus program, and allow counties to operate airports as county utilities, among others.

The bigger tranche of bills, roughly 50 that passed on June 29 but have not yet been signed, will have sat on the governor’s desk for 45 days come Aug. 13.

Holding quorums before the latter date would let lawmakers conduct their business without forcing Murphy to act on the larger group of bills.

This isn’t the first time in recent years that lawmakers have brushed up against the 45-day rule. Murphy signed or vetoed more than 80 bills, about 40 in each chamber, on the morning of Nov. 8, 2021, the day the legislature returned to Trenton in earnest after the four-month break typical of legislative election years.


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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.