TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday signed a bill to end the state's more than year-old public health emergency stemming from COVID-19 in the next 30 days.
Murphy, a Democrat, signed the bill just a day after the Democrat-led Legislature passed it over objections from Republicans and a loud crowd outside the Senate chamber calling for the measure to be killed.
The measure does away with some 100 executive orders, retaining just over dozen, including one that created moratoriums on evictions and utility shutoffs, among others. It leaves in place an executive order barring the garnishment of stimulus checks and extending certain rulemaking deadlines, among other directives from the governor.
“Today’s lifting of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency is a clear and decisive step on the path toward normalcy,” Murphy 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.”
The public health emergency goes back to March of last year, when the first cases were detected in New Jersey and the state soon became a hotspot.
The new law also provides that the state’s face mask and distancing requirements cannot be more restrictive than what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise.
More stringent requirements could be reinstated if the state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations spike, the transmission rate rises above 1 or spot positivity increases substantially under the new law.
Republicans criticized the legislation as window dressing, saying it accomplishes nothing that could not have been done by the governor on his own since the power to end the public health emergency rests with him.
They got support during Thursday's voting session by a vocal group outside the statehouse building chanting “kill the bill,” and holding signs criticizing Murphy over keeping a mandate for masks in schools in place for now. Some banners read: “Free the smiles unmask our kids,” and, “It’s not about the virus. It’s about control.” There were also banners and T-shirts reflecting the slogans of Republicans running in Tuesday’s gubernatorial primary.
Murphy first signed an executive order declaring a public health emergency at the outset of the pandemic in March 2020. He’s renewed it every month since then until recently, when he said he planned to let it expire, but not without legislation that enshrined certain parts of his orders.
New Jersey has vaccinated just over 4.3 million people. Murphy set a goal of inoculating 70% of the adult population, or 4.7 million people, by June 30.
Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.