New Jersey lawmakers reject Republican efforts to rein in Gov. Murphy’s emergency powers

By Kim Jarrett from the CenterSquare

(The Center Square) – A motion to require legislative review of Gov. Phil Murphy’s emergency order was voted down with loud shouts of “nay” on Thursday.

Assembly Republican leader Jon Bramnick put the proposal on the table during the Assembly’s voting session, which was conducted via teleconference. But given the Democrats’ 52-28 advantage in the chamber, the proposal had little chance of passage.

New Jersey Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Westfield, addresses reporters Jan. 15, 2019, during the Republican response to Gov. Phil Murphy’s first State of the State address in Trenton, N.J.
Julio Cortez / AP photo

“I do not question the motives of Governor Murphy, but I am very concerned that we do not have open hearings and discussions regarding reopening the state,” Bramnick said in a statement after the vote. “This extended emergency needs to be reviewed in the people’s house. The media, Senate President (Steve) Sweeney and my caucus continue to demand the data the governor is using to make decisions.”

Murphy said at his Thursday news conference he didn’t think he could be more open.

“I think we’ve been extremely transparent and open,” Murphy said. “We have regular calls with legislators both as a group and as individuals. I’m proud of the fact that we come up here every single day and we lay it on the line.”

Republican lawmakers have questioned several of Murphy’s actions since the COVID-19 health emergency began, including the 6,000 deaths at New Jersey’s long-term care facilities and a plan to borrow billions from the federal government to make up for anticipated budget shortfalls.

The governor’s participation in Black Lives Matter protests when an executive order was in place limiting social gathering also was questioned.

Bramnick prefiled a bill that would require the governor and legislative leaders to meet quarterly, first in a private meeting, then in a meeting open to the public. The bill is not assigned to a committee.

Republican state Sen. Joe Pennacchio is proposing a bill that would strip Murphy’s authority to deny access to certain public records. The Health Powers Act allows the governor to deny open records requests during a state of emergency.

“The Act was never intended to conceal data and decisions that impacts public health and fiscal stability from public and legislative scrutiny, but that has been the reality,” Pennacchio said in a statement introducing the bill. “The State’s mistake-marred response to COVID-19 has cost thousands of lives and continues to devastate the state economy. To better understand the what led to the errors, and how to avoid them in the future, it’s necessary to have unobstructed access to correspondence, records and reports that have remained hidden.”

The bill is currently assigned to the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee.