Just recently, the controversial and fast tracked bill A-5777 originally touted by lawmakers as a feasible plan to terminate New Jersey’s public health emergency over Covid-19 was abruptly pulled from a planned vote scheduled on May 20, 2021 due to rampant backlash from state lawmakers in both major parties as well as opposition from prominent NJ business organizations. The proposed bill would purportedly revoke nearly all of Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive orders related to the pandemic, but it wouldn’t necessarily eliminate all remaining restrictions as drafted. Instead, the bill sought to keep 15 of Gov. Murphy’s executive orders until January 2022 – including a moratorium on evictions and utility shutoffs, as well as whatever current masking and social distancing measures were currently in place.
The bill in its original form would have also allowed Gov. Murphy to revoke or alter any of his remaining orders before the end of the year without getting any input from the Legislature. This perceived attempt at unfettered power garnered a stark response from Republican lawmakers who remarked that such a measure would continue a “dictatorship” that Gov. Murphy has enjoyed for more than a year and that the bill ‘looks more like Stockholm syndrome than true oversight by a supposedly co-equal branch of government.” The New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA) immediately criticized the bill noting that it was bad for business and “did nothing to limit Gov. Phil Murphy’s unilateral power well beyond the health crisis.” The NJBIA’s chief complaint with the original bill was the continuation of Executive Order 192, which mandates that employers abide by certain health and safety standards through the end of the year. In practical terms, the continuation of EO 192 means that employers would have to continue daily health screening of workers and it would continue a mask mandate to be imposed indoors in places of business while many other states have gotten rid of the mandate entirely.
However, on May 24, 2021, New Jersey announced that it would lift its mask mandate on Friday, May 28, 2021 and no longer require masks indoors after already having lifted its outdoor mask mandate. During the formal announcement, Gov. Murphy stressed that businesses and private offices may continue to require employees and customers to wear masks and they will still be required in certain settings including health care, public transportation, airports, train stations, public-facing state offices and some private worksites. Plus, masking will continue at public and private elementary schools, child care facilities, and youth summer camps in accordance with CDC recommendations as children under age 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated and children 12 to 15 have only been eligible for vaccination for less than two weeks. New Jersey will also lift its six-foot social distancing requirements on May 28th and remove all indoor gathering limits on June 4, 2021. All in all, the lifting of these major restrictions translates into a much welcomed return to “normal” for the majority of New Jerseyans who have endured a long road to recovery during this unprecedented pandemic.