NJ Senate sends 26 emergency virus-response measures to Murphy
TRENTON — More than two dozen bills responding to the coronavirus emergency were approved and sent to Gov. Phil Murphy Thursday, though the Senate pared three bills from the package that had been passed earlier in the week by the Assembly.
The bills include a potential tax filing extension and funding for business grants, food banks, welfare benefits and lost wages. Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said the package is a first step with more sure to follow.
“People are worried about their families, as they should be," Sweeney said. "We came here today because we thought it was extremely important to get a lot of this stuff done because New Jersey families have to know that we’re not taking off, we’re following through, and we’re making sure that they’re safe as they can be.”
The Senate passed 26 of the 29 coronavirus-related bills approved Monday by the Assembly. The ones that weren’t acted on would have extended the March 30 filing deadline for the June primary, provided fully paid leave to local government employees for virus-connected absences and allocated $20 million to the state Department of Education for school facility cleaning and sanitization.
“Schools are closed, and we’ll visit that as schools start to reopen,” Sweeney said of delayed the school cleaning legislation. “But for now that wasn’t an urgent priority right now.”
The Senate also added another bill that hadn’t yet been taken up by the Assembly, S2304, which expands the temporary disability insurance and family leave insurance programs to cover epidemics such as COVID-19. It also eliminates the current one-week waiting period for epidemic-related cases.
Separate from the emergency-related bills, the Senate also unanimously passed legislation that would create new health insurance plans for teachers – a bit less generous than their current coverage, but teachers enrolled in the plan would pay significantly less toward their benefits, as the payment would become a percentage of their salary rather than a percentage of their premiums.
The change, long sought by the New Jersey Education Association, was unveiled a week ago and was passed without a single committee hearing. The actuary analysis of the bill’s potential cost savings is not yet completed and public, though Sweeney said it should be within days.
“This is not what I had been pushing as a gold plan. It’s still a platinum plan, just a reduced-cost platinum plan,” Sweeney said. “You’ve seen some of the numbers, what they can save, roughly $4,000 and change by switching. The difference we have this time around is the unions are going to sell this to their members, and that’s a big, big difference than what we were dealing with before.”
The Senate session was held in the larger Assembly chamber so senators could sit further apart, in adherence with social distancing guidelines. At least three senators wore protective gloves. All votes were done by roll call, rather than electronically, which slowed the proceedings significantly.
Six senators were absent from the session: James Beach, D-Camden; Gerald Cardinale, R-Bergen; Michael Doherty, R-Warren; Nia Gill, D-Essex; Joe Pennacchio, R-Morris; and Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen.
The logistical challenges of the coronavirus were also on display at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting Thursday morning in which four members of the State Parole Board who were re-nominated for another term conducted their interviews through the Zoom video conferencing app.
The testimony was nearly impossible to hear for those not in the committee room and listening online, which excludes the general public, who are temporarily not being admitted to the Statehouse complex.
The bills that were passed and sent to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk include:
- A3095/S1982 Provides county clerks with additional week to mail ballots for 2020 primary election.
- A3813/S2292 Permits use of virtual or remote instruction to meet minimum 180-day school year requirement under certain circumstances.
- A3840/S2281 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/S2300 Automatically extends time to file gross income tax or corporation business tax return if federal government extends filing or payment due date for federal returns.
- A3842/S2282 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/S2283 Requires health insurance and Medicaid coverage for testing of coronavirus disease 2019 and for telemedicine and telehealth during coronavirus disease 2019 state of emergency.
- A3845/S2284 Authorizes EDA to make grants during periods of emergency declared by Governor and for duration of economic disruptions due to emergency; allows EDA to grant certain business documentation submission deadline extensions.
- A3846/S2293 Creates "Temporary Lost Wage Unemployment Program;" allows persons to claim for lost wages due to coronavirus disease 2019, and employers to pay wages to workers ordered under quarantine by licensed healthcare practitioner; appropriates $20,000,000.
- A3848/S2301 Concerns time off from work in connection with infectious disease.
- A3849/S2302 Modifies deadline by which public agency is required to respond to request for government record during period of emergency.
- A3850/S2294 Allows public bodies to conduct meetings, and provide notice, by electronic means during periods of emergency.
- A3851/S2295 Permits extension of deadlines for adoption of county and municipal budgets under certain circumstances.
- A3852/S2296 Allows conduct of State business and legislative sessions at locations other than Trenton during periods of emergency or other exigency; allows conduct of legislative business using electronic means. Signed into law by the governor.
- A3854/S2286 Authorizes all licensed health care facilities and laboratories to collect specimens to test for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); allows waiver of staffing ratio requirements.
- A3855/S2287 Requires food access information be displayed on websites of 2-1-1 system and executive branch departments during public health emergencies to the extent practicable.
- A3856/S2297 Makes FY 2020 supplemental appropriation of $10 million for healthcare and residential facility sanitation due to coronavirus disease 2019 outbreak.
- A3857/S2275 Makes FY 2020 supplemental appropriations of $15 million for grants to food banks.
- A3858/S2288 Requires Commissioner of Human Services to issue supplemental cash assistance payments to Work First New Jersey recipients under certain circumstances; makes appropriation.
- A3859/S2276 Concerns prohibition of residential tenant eviction and eviction due to residential foreclosure during certain emergency circumstances. Signed into law by the governor.
- A3860/S2289 Establishes certain requirements to use telemedicine and telehealth to respond to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Signed into law by the governor.
- A3861/S2290 Permits corporations to hold shareholders' meetings in part or solely by means of remote communication during state of emergency.
- A3862/S2298 Permits professional and occupational licensing boards to expedite licensure of certain individuals during state of emergency or public health emergency. Signed into law by the governor.
- A3864/S2299 Authorizes notaries public to perform certain notarial acts remotely.
- A3865/S2291 Limits return of items purchased from retail food stores under certain circumstances.
- ACR165/SCR109 Urges DHS to apply for federal waivers to facilitate and increase access to SNAP benefits during coronavirus disease 2019 outbreak. Passed 65-0.
- AJR158/SJR77 Urges FCC to take temporary measures to secure broadband access for those affected by COVID-19.
The Senate also gave final legislative approval to the Hunger-Free Students' Bill of Rights Act, which requires certain school meal information be provided to students' parents, establishes protocols for identifying eligible students for meal programs and prohibits stigmatizing student with bill in arrears.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.