Here is NJ Democrats’ new plan to end COVID public health emergency

Emergency provisions that protect hospitals and care homes from lawsuits will continue through September under a revamped bill that Democratic lawmakers – with input from Gov. Phil Murphy – crafted to end in the New Jersey public health emergency.

The bill is lawmakers’ second attempt to work with Murphy to end the emergency caused by COVID-19 last year.

Another bill introduced in the assembly last month was scrapped after Republicans and Democrats feared it would end the name-only emergency, while giving Murphy unprecedented authority.

Yet the most recent bill, A5820 / S3866, is similar to the previous one, giving the governor the power to maintain 14 executive decrees until January 1, 2022, instead of the 15 decrees extended by the previous bill.

Dozens of other orders would end 30 days after the invoice is signed.

“The bill doesn’t do much more than the last bill,” said MP Brian Bergen, R-Morris. Bergen, who has urged lawmakers to limit the governor’s general authority during the pandemic, said the bill was a “handshake deal” between Murphy and legislative leaders.

“There will be no public comment on this bill; it’s insulting, “he said.” I was just blown away that we allowed this unilateral decision-making. ”

The bill was introduced on Tuesday and made public online on Wednesday. Legislative leaders expedited it, skipping committee hearings and putting it to a vote in the Senate and Assembly on Thursday, according to legislative sources.

Murphy said during a coronavirus briefing on Wednesday that he, Senate Speaker Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin had “a very good level of cooperation to come to a legitimate good resolution.”

“We’ve been saying for some time that we don’t want to prolong these health emergencies more than anyone,” Murphy said.

He declined to comment on the details of the bill, but said he and lawmakers were working to end the public health emergency and preserve his powers “especially if this thing turns around and comes back on us.”

Murphy declared a public health emergency and a state of emergency in March 2020, just days after the first case of COVID emerged in Garden State.

The bill allows Murphy to pursue the separate declaration of the state of emergency that does not expire. Public health emergencies expire in 30 days if they are not renewed by the governor.

After:As New Jersey Slowly Lifts COVID-19 Restrictions, Some Say Legal Immunity Should End, Also

What the bill does

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy updates the mask's mandate during his COVID-19 briefing on Monday, May 24, 2021, at the War Memorial in Trenton

The bill extends Murphy’s orders that place a moratorium on evictions, insurance companies canceling policies and utility cuts, among other provisions. These would remain in place until January 1, 2022, unless Murphy revokes or changes them earlier.

The bill shortens the window in which residents are barred from suing healthcare providers and continues to strengthen the staffing arrangements put in place to help busy frontline workers fight the virus and to protect their patients.

“If this public health emergency has shown us anything, it’s how much of a problem staffing is,” said Douglas Placa, executive director of JNESO, a union representing 5,000 nurses and technicians in New Jersey. and Pennsylvania.

The previous bill granted health facilities immunity from civil or criminal prosecution in most cases until January 1, 2022.

Although many states have already repealed provisions such as COVID has declined, the latest bill says after September 1, 2021, that immunity would only continue for healthcare workers performing tests or vaccination against coronavirus.

Maintaining immune protections in New Jersey drew criticism from some lawmakers, who accused the state of favoring the powerful healthcare industry.

Nor can the governor impose more restrictive mask or distancing rules than what is recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – unless there is a “substantial increase” in hospitalizations, cases or COVID transmission rate greater than 1.

Murphy had for weeks resisted the CDC’s recommendations to retain the state’s mask mandate, but lifted it before Memorial Day weekend under political pressure. Although many restrictions have eased, Murphy said preserving some of his orders was necessary to help people recover from COVID and its economic toll.

On Wednesday, the state reported 518 people hospitalized with COVID – the lowest number since early October – and a virus transmission rate of 0.73.

While the bill sets a Jan. 1 expiration date for some of Murphy’s orders, it does give leeway and increased legislative oversight over the dozens of other orders, guidelines or waivers that have helped state agencies to respond to the virus.

These orders will continue until January 11, 2022, unless the governor requests a 90-day extension that must be approved by the legislature.

After:As New Jersey Slowly Lifts COVID-19 Restrictions, Some Say Legal Immunity Should End, Also

Access to public archives

Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, and an access to records advocate, said this provision of the emergency bill could be a deciding factor in getting her vote.

The leeway lawmakers gave last year to custodians of public records is also strengthened under the bill, but not with regard to records related to COVID.

State law requires archivists to give the public access to documents – like police reports and budget documents – within 7 days, but that deadline was relaxed last year by lawmakers who feared that local governments are understaffed and working from home amid the pandemic.

This law caused delays and prevented the public and journalists from accessing information such as supplies of personal protective equipment.

The bill ending the public health emergency would reinstate the 7-day deadline even if the state of emergency persists, but this does not apply to cases related to COVID.

Senator Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen and access to records advocate, said the provision could be a deciding factor in getting her vote.

“I think we need to end the emergency decrees, except for those that may still be applicable, which (the public records law) need to revert to what they were before COVID, and that the government state reopens, ”she said.

After:NJ will end public health emergency, but that doesn’t mean much for access to public records

Stacey Barchenger is a reporter at the New Jersey Statehouse. For unlimited access to his work spanning New Jersey’s decision-makers and political power structure, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @sbarchenger




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