NJ lawmakers pass bill to end public health emergency; all indoor gathering limits now lifted

TRENTON, New Jersey (WPVI) -- New Jersey's Democrat-led legislature on Thursday passed a bill to end the public health emergency brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The measure, which passed with Democrats in favor and Republicans against, ends most of the more than 100 executive orders that Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy enacted to address the pandemic, but leaves about a dozen of them in place until January.

Murphy, whose administration was involved in drafting the measure, said in a joint statement with Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin signed the legislation on Friday.

The bill won't go into effect 30 days from the signing.



In addition, starting on June 4, businesses in New Jersey can call back remote workers and let employees work maskless - if they are vaccinated, Murphy announced.

All indoor gathering limits will be removed. The 30% limit on large indoor venues with a fixed seating capacity of 1,000 or greater will also be lifted.



Thursday's vote came after Murphy and legislative leaders announced recently that they'd work to end the public health emergency that gave the governor extraordinary powers, including mandating masks and requiring social distancing.

The legislation leaves in place a moratorium on evictions and utility shutoffs, among others. It also leaves in place an executive order that barred the garnishment of stimulus checks and extends certain rulemaking deadlines, among other directives from the governor.

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The legislation also provides that the state's face mask and distancing requirements cannot be more restrictive than what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise. It does, though, allow for more stringent requirements if the state's COVID-19 hospitalizations spike, the transmission rate rises above one or spot positivity increases substantially.

Republicans derided the legislation as window dressing, saying that it accomplishes nothing that couldn't have been done by the governor on his own since the power to end the public health emergency rests with him.

"The bill is completely useless," Republican Assembly member Brian Bergen said during a debate on the Assembly floor.

They were buoyed by a boisterous crowd outside the statehouse building that at times chanted "kill the bill," and hoisted signs criticizing Murphy over keeping a mandate for masks in schools in place for now.

Some banners read: "Free the smiles unmask our kids," and, "It's not about the virus. It's about control." There were also banners and T-shirts reflecting the slogans of Republicans running in Tuesday's gubernatorial primary.

Amy Rozen, 51, of Rockaway, was among the crowd at the rally. She said she was a progressive Democrat, but wouldn't support Murphy this year because of what she cast as his mishandling of the outbreak. She also echoed GOP concerns that the measure moved too fast without giving people enough time to review it.

"They didn't leave any time for public comments or even for the legislators even to understand. It's been rammed through. The people of New Jersey are not going to stand for that," she said.

Democratic Assembly member Nicholas Chiaravalloti, a sponsor of the bill, defended the legislation, saying it sets timelines that aren't included in executive orders.

"What this bill does is provide a definitive end to the public health emergency," he said.

Murphy first signed an executive order declaring a public health emergency at the outset of the pandemic in March 2020. He's renewed it every month since then until recently, when he said he planned to let it expire, but not without legislation that enshrined certain parts of his orders.

New Jersey has vaccinated nearly 4.3 million people. Murphy set a goal of inoculating 70% of the adult population, or 4.7 million people, by June 30.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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