Proposed Amendment Aims To Limit NJ Governor's Emergency Orders

Karen Wall

TRENTON, NJ — Saying Gov. Phil Murphy's executive orders in the coronavirus pandemic have been an overreach of his authority, legislators from New Jersey's 10th district are proposing a constitutional amendment to limit an a governor's executive order to 14 days.

State Sen. Jim Holzapfel and Assemblymen Greg McGuckin and John Catalano have sponsored matching Senate and Assembly resolutions (SCR-117 and ACR-181) proposing the constitutional amendment. Emergency orders, rules or regulations issued by a governor during a state of emergency would end on the 15th day after they were issued, unless the state legislature approves an extension, under the proposed amendment.

"This will force the governor to work with the Legislature," the legislators said in a joint news release.

To amend the state's constitution, the potential amendment is submitted through the Senate or Assembly, and must be passed by at least a three-fifths majority in each body. If it passes the legislature by three-fifths, it then is placed on the ballot for a vote by state residents. If a majority of residents votes for the amendment, it passes and takes effect 30 days after the vote.

The proposal comes as more politicians and businesses push back against the pace of the reopening of the state. Murphy shut down schools and all nonessential businesses on March 16, and clamped down on social gatherings, ordering residents to stay home as the coronavirus was rapidly spreading. In recent weeks, however, as the spread of the virus has slowed and hospitalizations have declined, Murphy has begun to ease restrictions.

Restaurants, which have been limited to delivery or takeout only, were allowed to offer outdoor dining as of Monday. Hair and nail salons are scheduled to reopen June 22. And as of July 3, public gatherings outdoors of up to 500 people will be permitted, which has allowed high schools to plan outdoor in-person graduation ceremonies.

But the Asbury Park City Council tried to buck the governor's order and allow its restaurants and bars to offer limited in-person dining indoors. And Brick Township Mayor John G. Ducey has criticized the pace of reopening, saying "it is crippling" businesses.

More than 1.2 million New Jersey residents have filed for unemployment during the shutdown.

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"We cannot allow one person’s decisions with such far-reaching consequences to impact an entire state for so long without legislative input," Holzapfel said. "This measure would ensure that the people’s elected representatives from all corners of the state have a say in whether consequential emergency orders should be extended."

"The months of shutdown have made it clear to all lawmakers and our residents that the governor’s executive powers need to be checked," McGuckin said.

"In times of crisis, we need the appropriate checks and balances," Catalano said. "This amendment to our state constitution will ensure that the power is given back to the people."

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This article originally appeared on the Brick Patch