NJ Gov. Ends Virus Emergency, Keeps Some Powers

By Bill Wichert
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Law360 (June 4, 2021, 1:54 PM EDT) -- New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday ended the long-running coronavirus public health emergency declaration in the state and signed a bill that enables him to continue addressing vaccination efforts, testing and related issues as public health conditions improve and life in the Garden State looks more normal.

Murphy signed A.B. 5820 a day after the state Legislature passed the fast-tracked measure, which lifts most of the executive orders he approved based on the public health emergency while leaving some restrictions in place through the end of the year. Murphy then signed an executive order terminating the declaration.

"Today's lifting of the COVID-19 public health emergency is a clear and decisive step on the path toward normalcy," Murphy said in a statement. "The past 15 months have been a challenge, and I thank every New Jerseyan who stayed home, masked up, took precautions to keep this virus in check, and got vaccinated for allowing us to get to this point."

Murphy, a Democrat who is seeking a second term this year, also thanked Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, "for working with us to responsibly end the public health emergency and meet the challenges ahead."

The end of the declaration is a milestone in a crisis that has led to more than 23,000 deaths and devastated businesses in New Jersey.

Murphy declared the public health emergency at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and renewed it every month, most recently on May 14. In that time, he issued more than 100 executive orders imposing restrictions aimed at combating the spread of COVID-19.

With the number of COVID-19 cases declining as more New Jerseyans have gotten vaccinated, Murphy largely lifted those restrictions and announced plans along with Sweeney and Coughlin to let the declaration expire once legislation was enacted. That legislative effort produced A.B. 5820.

The bill says that nearly all the executive orders will expire 30 days after its effective date, except 14 directives that will remain in effect until Jan. 1. Those remaining executive orders include a moratorium on evictions and foreclosure proceedings.

Another outstanding order granted civil immunity to health care workers and facilities in connection with the pandemic, but the bill ends the immunity under that directive and related measures on Sept. 1. After then, civil immunity will continue "only for individuals specifically engaged in vaccinations or testing related to COVID-19," the bill says.

The bill also prohibits Murphy from imposing requirements on masks and social distancing that are more stringent than CDC guidelines "unless a substantial increase in hospitalizations, substantially increased spot positivity or rate of transmission above 1 necessitates a modification that would be more restrictive."

Murphy will still be able to issue directives to address certain issues, including "vaccination distribution, administration and management" and "COVID-19 testing." That authority will last until Jan. 11 unless he seeks a 90-day extension.

--Editing by Brian Baresch.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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