In Brief

GOP push to curtail Murphy’s powers appears to win some Dem support

By: - January 31, 2022 1:39 pm

Sen. Vin Gopal (Courtesy of New Jersey Senate Democrats)

New Jersey Republicans introduced another bill Monday that would curtail Gov. Phil Murphy’s emergency powers, but unlike earlier attempts, this bid appears poised to win some Democratic support.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth), would automatically sunset state of emergency declarations issued by the governor 60 days after they come into effect unless majorities in both chambers vote to extend them by 30 days. Currently law allows a state of emergency to continue until the governor rescinds the declaration.

O’Scanlon’s bill would grant the Legislature similar oversight over public health emergencies that last longer than 60 days.

For states of emergency and public health emergency declarations, the Legislature would be able to pass resolutions to extend them for a maximum of 90 days.

The move comes about three weeks after Murphy reissued a public health emergency because the Legislature did not approve a measure granting him emergency powers he requested. The declaration allows Murphy to retain power over some items loathed by Republicans, like his order requiring masks in schools.

“It’s unfathomable to many people that our laws would allow a single person to wield such an astonishing amount of authority with virtually no oversight,” O’Scanlon said in a statement. “Our new legislation is based on our experience over the last two years and addresses the serious concerns expressed by both legislators and the constituents we represent.”

O’Scanlon on Twitter said Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) would sign onto the bill as a prime sponsor. Gopal is a moderate Democrat representing the sole district in the state represented in the Legislature by both major parties.

Gopal declined to comment, though he is expected to support the bill as a sponsor.

A spokesperson for the governor also declined to comment.

Republicans have chaffed at Murphy’s use of executive power since the start of the pandemic, urging the governor to loosen restrictions on businesses in the crisis’s early months and railing against vaccine and mask mandates as the pandemic wore on.

They have repeatedly introduced bills that would give the Legislature greater control over the governor’s pandemic powers, including similar bills that would have neutered emergency orders issued by the executive after 14 days unless the Legislature approves an extension. Those bills never advanced in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

Murphy and Democratic legislative leaders in June reached a deal to sunset the state’s public health emergency while keeping in place some pandemic-related emergency powers until the start of the new legislative session in January.

The new public health emergency declaration came after former Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) declined to advance a joint resolution that would have kept some pandemic-related administrative orders in place for an additional 45 days.

Legislative Democrats’ about-face on the governor’s powers followed a November election that cut their majorities in both chambers to their narrowest in years. Those losses appear driven in part by animus to the governor’s pandemic orders among Republican voters.

O’Scanlon’s bill bars the governor from reissuing a public health or state of emergency declaration for the same emergency.


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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.