New hope to limit Murphy’s pandemic powers

The power struggle between Governor Phil Murphy and the state legislature over how best to handle the COVID response could be coming to a head.

In recent days, there appears to be some push to limit Murphy’s broad pandemic powers beyond the Republican opposition and in a bipartisan way.

Democrats have expressed frustration at being left out of the process for much of the pandemic, but have refused to take legislative action to restore the balance of power.

The biggest setback came in the closing hours of the last legislative session when outgoing Senate Speaker Steve Sweeney introduced a bill that would have extended Murphy’s powers past the Jan. 15 deadline for their expiry.

However, Republican bills that would have permanently limited the executive’s emergency powers were defeated.

A new bill, sponsored by Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth), would limit the state of emergency and public health emergency to 60 days. Any extension would require legislative approval.

Also, the legislature could overturn either declaration if two-thirds of lawmakers vote to do so.

What gives this bill a chance to get at least a hearing, if not a full vote, is the addition of an influential Democratic co-sponsor.

O’Scanlon tweeted that Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) has signed on as a co-sponsor.

Gopal did not respond to a request for comment and made no mention of the bill on his social media accounts.

Another sign that Democrats might be willing to consider such a move are comments from incoming Senate Speaker Nick Scutari (D-Union).

O’Scanlon says he thinks Scutari and other Democratic leaders are open to talks.

Scutari told News12 New Jersey that there have been discussions, but he would likely take a “wait and see” approach before taking any action.

Governor Murphy’s current public health emergency declaration will expire in two weeks. If he extends it as COVID measures fall back to levels last seen before the December recess, that could prompt the legislature to act.

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