In an effort to stem the spread of the deadly Coronavirus, a number of restrictions have been put into place in Trenton. Access to the State Capitol Complex is now strictly limited to “members of government, government employees/contractors, credentialed members of the press, and invited participants with business in the Complex.” Last week, nearly all Committee Hearings scheduled for March were cancelled, and for those Committees that are meeting this week, members of the public are not permitted to attend, and no oral testimony is being taken. Members of the public are encouraged to submit written testimony via email instead.
While all of these precautions are aimed at keeping NJ residents safe, there is one aspect of this situation that is worth paying attention to: more than two dozen bills were introduced, heard, and released yesterday morning in the Assembly Homeland Security Committee, even though many of those bills were not yet available online for the public to review and submit testimony on. These bills are considered “emergency measures” intended to address issues arising from coronavirus-related restrictions, such as allowing virtual school days to count towards the 180-day state requirement. It’s unlikely that these measures would have faced much resistance anyway, but it is still unsettling to know that the public was not given an opportunity to at least read the bills and weigh in on them before their elected representatives voted. Yesterday’s bills were released and sent immediately to the floor of the Assembly for a vote, where they all passed.
The Senate versions of these bills will be similarly fast-tracked on Thursday morning: introduced, heard, released, and voted upon, within just a few short hours. From there, the bills will head to Governor Murphy’s desk for final passage. Slowly but surely, the Assembly bills are starting to appear online on the NJ Legislative website. (A list is posted below if you’d like to look them up. The Senate versions are not yet posted as of this writing, but are sure to be identical to their Assembly counterparts.)
I completely understand the need for fast-tracking these bills–desperate times call for desperate measures, and with at least one legislator already under self-quarantine and awaiting test results for coronavirus, time is of the essence. What’s frustrating is that I’ve seen great legislation–bills that are aimed at helping people and are clearly beneficial–take months or even years to work their way through the typically arduous legislative process. And yet, here we have more than two dozen bills that will likely be hitting the Governor’s desk, mere days after their introduction, many of which will have passed without the benefit of public input or review.
The legislative process isn’t perfect, but it exists for a reason. History shows that laws that pass without a thorough vetting can lead to unintended consequences. Let’s hope that isn’t the case with the bills being fast-tracked this week.
Here are the bills and resolutions that were heard, released, and voted on yesterday:
A3095 [Mazzeo, Vincent/DiMaio, John], Provides county clerks with additional week to mail ballots for 2020 primary election
A3813 [Burzichelli, John/Schepisi, Holly/Lampitt, Pamela/Stanfield, Jean], Permits use of virtual or remote instruction to meet minimum 180-day school year requirement under certain circumstances
A3839 [Carter, Linda/Bramnick, Jon], Makes supplemental appropriation of $20 million from General Fund to DOE to support school facility cleaning and sanitization
A3840 [Lampitt, Pamela/Dunn, Aura], Requires school districts to provide school meals or meal vouchers to students eligible for free and reduced price school meals during school closures due to COVID-19 epidemic
A3841 [Pintor Marin, Eliana/Bramnick, Jon], Extends time to file gross income tax or corporation business tax return by one month;
A3842 [Greenwald, Louis/Taliaferro, Adam], Establishes Bridging the Digital Divide in Schools Grant Program in DOE to provide and expand access to technology and equipment for students in certain school districts
A3843 [McKeon, John/Bramnick, Jon], Requires health insurance and Medicaid coverage for testing and treatment of coronavirus disease 2019, and for telemedicine during coronavirus disease 2019
A3844 [Freiman, Roy/Greenwald, Louis], Concerns business interruption insurance during coronavirus disease 2019 state of emergency;
A3845 [Freiman, Roy/Greenwald, Louis/Dancer, Ronald], Expands EDA small business loan program to include small businesses negatively affected by certain epidemics; makes $25 million appropriation to EDA
A3846 [Sumter, Shavonda], Creates “Temporary Lost Wage Unemployment Program” to allow persons to claim for lost wages due to coronavirus disease 2019
A3847 [Tully, P. Christopher/DeCroce, BettyLou], Provides paid leave without utilizing accumulated leave for local government employees under certain circumstances
A3848 [Lopez, Yvonne/Munoz, Nancy/Downey, Joann], Concerns time off from work in connection with infectious disease
A3849 [Johnson, Gordon], Permits public agency to respond to request for government record within 21 calendar days during period of emergency or other exigency
A3850 [Murphy, Carol/DeCroce, BettyLou], Allows local government agencies to meet electronically during declared Public Health Emergency or State of Emergency
A3851 [Schaer, Gary/Scharfenberger, Gerard], Extends deadlines for adoption of county and municipal budgets under certain circumstances
A3853 [Jasey, Mila/Schepisi, Holly], Establishes “COVID-19 Emergency Food Distribution Fund”; appropriates $10,000,000
A3854 [Conaway, Herb/Munoz, Nancy], Authorizes licensed health care facilities and laboratories to develop and administer coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) tests; allows waiver of staffing ratio requirements
A3855 [Mosquera, Gabriela/Stanfield, Jean], Requires food access information be displayed on websites of 2-1-1 system and executive branch departments during public health emergencies
A3856 [Downey, Joann], Makes FY2020 supplemental appropriation of $10 million for residential facility sanitation due to coronavirus disease 2019 outbreak
A3857 [Coughlin, Craig], Makes FY2020 supplemental appropriation of $5 million to Community Food Bank of NJ to provide meals for children who are out of school and received subsidized lunches
A3858 [Mukherji, Raj], Requires Commissioner of Human Services to issue supplemental cash assistance payments to recipients of certain public assistance programs under certain circumstances; makes appropriation
A3859 [McKnight, Angela/Schepisi, Holly], Concerns prohibition of residential tenant eviction and eviction due to residential foreclosure during certain emergency circumstances
A3860 [Pinkin, Nancy/DeCroce, BettyLou], Facilitates use of telemedicine and telehealth to respond to public health emergencies
ACR165 [Mejia, Pedro/Mazzeo, Vincent], Urges DHS to apply for federal waivers to facilitate and increase access to SNAP benefits during coronavirus disease 2019 outbreak
AJR158 [DeAngelo, Wayne/DePhillips, Christopher], Urges FCC to take temporary measures to secure broadband access for those affected by COVID-19.