In a show of unity in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the New Jersey Senate cleared a package of 27 bills designed to contend with the current situation and the months ahead.
Senate President Steve Sweeney noted the international healthcare crisis would affect many aspects of life in New Jersey, but noted the immediate concern was protecting the health and safety of residents throughout the state.
“We won’t be able to solve it overnight and we can’t prevent all the negative effects from happening, but there are actions we can take to contain the spread of the virus, to care for those who become infected and to help those who are impacted. These bills will help,” he said.
Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean echoed the sentiments, and called upon New Jersey’s elected officials to coordinate their response to the pandemic.
“Republicans and Democrats in both houses of the New Jersey Legislature are working together to advance legislation that is critical to the well-being of the Garden State,” he said.
Protecting Workers, Businesses from Undue Hardship
Sweeney sponsored a bill to ensure access to programs for workers in the coronavirus pandemic. The bill makes sure employees eligible for earned sick leave, family temporary disability leave, temporary disability leave and family leave, when applicable, due to being unable to work as the virus spread.
Meanwhile, a bill sponsored by Sens. Fred H. Madden, Jr. and Joseph Lagana created a “Temporary Lost Wage Unemployment Program” to help employees recoup lost wages due to the economic upheaval accompanying the virus. The bill appropriates $20 million for the program.
Additionally, a bill sponsored by Sens. Nilsa Cruz-Perez, Brian P. Stack, Kean, and Anthony M. Bucco sought to protect business interests in the state. It provides the New Jersey Economic Development Authority to provide grants during periods of emergency and allows for those grants to be distributed for the duration of the economic disruptions caused by the emergency situation.
Reducing the Impacts of Shuttered Schools
One of the bills, sponsored by Sens. Gerry Cardinale, James Beach and Kean, mirrored one passed in the Assembly providing flexibility for remote learning to apply to the 180-day instruction requirement. The proposal would apply for extended emergency school closures connected to either a declared state of emergency or a public health emergency.
Additionally, a bill sponsored by Sens. M. Teresa Ruiz and and Sandra B. Cunningham addressed at-risk children in need of food. The bill requires school districts to provide meals to students enrolled in free or reduced meal programs during the outbreak. The bill provided direction and clarification on the specifics of the delivery system.
A third bill intended to help students access learning through technology was approved. The bill provides funding for access to laptops, tablet, hot spot devices and other technology for student use at home or school to ensure remote instruction.
The bill anticipated potential healthcare industry issues in preparation of a worsening outbreak. One bill required health insurance and Medicaid to cover testing for the disease. Additionally it would ensure coverage of telehealth and telemedicine services without cost-sharing requirements during the state of emergency.
Additional bills authorized licensed healthcare facilities and clinical laboratories to collect specimens to test for COVID-19 during the health emergency and allocated $10 million for sanitation efforts at healthcare and residential living facilities.