Legislation aims to limit statewide business closures due to COVID

Legislation aims to limit statewide business closures due to COVID

Citing a steadily increasing number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey, Governor Murphy announced new restrictions on restaurants and bars today: All restaurants must close indoor operations by 10 p.m. and cannot reopen until 5 a.m., effective Thursday, Nov. 12th. Outdoor dining can stay open past 10 p.m., as can takeout and delivery service. The new regulations come despite reports that restaurants and bars are not the cause of spikes in coronavirus–contact tracing data has shown that private gatherings, where safety protocols are less likely to be followed, have yielded higher rates of COVID-19 transmission.

Which begs the question: why would the Governor issue restrictions that will drive people away from the controlled, highly-regulated environment of restaurants and bars, and increase the likelihood of their participation in unregulated, potentially-dangerous private gatherings?

There’s been a great deal of debate regarding Governor Murphy’s decision-making process when it comes to COVID restrictions, and struggling business owners may finally have a ray of hope, in the form of new legislation that calls for county-based mitigation plans when coronavirus cases spike, as opposed to blanket, statewide business closures.

A4910 (and its Senate companion bill, S3093) direct the Governor, in consultation with the Commissioner of the Department of Health, to develop and implement a mitigation plan using empirical data, over a seven day rolling average, to establish three categories of risk (red/highest, yellow/moderate, and green/low) that would be applied on a county-by-county basis, or if the county has a population density of less than 1,500 persons per square mile, the Governor may restrict business activity by municipality.

Both bills were filed last Thursday, and according to the legislative calendar posted tonight, A4910 is scheduled to be heard this Thursday, Nov. 12th at 10:30 in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

The measures would finally bring some long-overdue structure and transparency to the decision-making process for closing down businesses in New Jersey: spikes in Cape May County would not necessarily affect businesses 150 miles away in Bergen County, and vice versa. The bill also requires the Department of Health website to post current information on risk categories assigned to each county, allowing business owners and the public to more easily track data trends, and plan accordingly.

Members of the public who wish to testify on the bill need to fill out the Registration Form on the NJ Legislative website by 3pm tomorrow, Nov. 10th. Comments in support or opposition of the bill may be submitted to OLSAideAPP@njleg.org.