North Jersey News Roundup for Dec. 17, 2020

A state of emergency was declared by Gov. Phil Murphy as the first major Winter storm of the 2020/2021 season hit North Jersey. Murphy said the storm forecast calls for North Jersey above I-87 to reach 12-18 inches of snow. NJDOT’s preparations for the storm included pre-treating many roads and highways, prepositioning towing equipment in trouble spots and commercial vehicle travel restrictions in place along New Jersey’s interstate highways.

Congressional leaders closed in on a roughly $900 billion coronavirus stimulus deal that includes another round of direct payments to households. The package under discussion was expected to include, along with direct checks, $300 a week in enhanced unemployment insurance, funding for vaccine distribution, schools, small businesses and healthcare providers, rental assistance and other relief measures. The Wall Street Journal

Gov. Phil Murphy branded as “unacceptable” the absence of state and local aid in a federal coronavirus stimulus bill. “It’s awful,” stated Murphy. “States have been out there at the front lines fighting for this thing since Day 1. I like what’s in it but it needs to include state aid.”

Former Gov. Chris Christie filmed a video urging people to wear masks and warning against making the same mistake he did when he became part of a coronavirus outbreak at the White House in early October. “I urge all Americans to learn from my experience and to, please, wear a mask and stay safe,” he wrote in a post introducing the video aimed at all those people who refuse to wear a mask. The New York Times 

Vice President Mike Pence is set to receive a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus Dec. 18, while President-elect Joe Biden is expected to be vaccinated next week. Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence will receive the vaccine at the White House in a public setting to promote the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and “build confidence among the American people.” The Pences will be joined by Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who will receive the vaccine as well. USA Today

Jersey City plans to establish six coronavirus vaccination sites across the city. The city has confirmed four locations, the Mary McLeod Bethune Life Center, the Joseph Connors Senior Center, James J. Ferris High School and Franklin L. Williams School. The Jersey Journal

A federal vaccine-advisory committee is likely to recommend the Food and Drug Administration grant an emergency-use authorization to Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine when the panel meets Dec. 17. The agency said in a written analysis that the vaccine is “highly effective,” on the strength of the Moderna test data that showed the vaccine was 94.1% effective in thwarting the coronavirus. The Wall Street Journal

A Newton man accused of illegally pocketing $5.6 million in federal coronavirus loans was arrested just before he boarded a plane for Pakistan, according to federal authorities. Azhar Sarwar Rana was charged with bank fraud and money laundering after falsifying payroll and tax information to obtain the money from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. Instead of using the loan to pay employees at a purported real estate business, Rana is alleged to have spent millions on himself for stock-market investments, a luxury car and other items. The Record

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) blocked a bill preventing data brokers from selling or otherwise trading in the personal identifying information of federal judges spurred by the attempted assassination of U.S. District Court Judge Esther Salas in New Jersey. Rand sought to amend the bill—dubbed Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act after Salas’s son was slain during the attack — to include similar protections for members of Congress. New Jersey Globe

The State Senate is expected to vote on Gov. Phil Murphy’s picks to serve on the commission that would oversee Gateway tunnel projects. Janine Bauer and Dr. Balpreet Grewal-Virk received unanimous support in the Senate judiciary committee after being nominated as the New Jersey representatives on the Gateway Development Commission, a new bi-state agency that can receive federal funds for the much-anticipated projects to rehabilitate the aging rail tunnels and build two new ones under the Hudson River into New York Penn Station. The Daily Record

A Full Funding Grant Agreement (FGA) for the new Portal North Bridge was formally submitted to Congress. Under the FGA, the Federal Transit Administration will award $766.5 million for the project, with an additional $57.1 million sourced  from the Federal Highway Administration’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement. New Jersey will allocate $811 million for the project, with Amtrak providing $261.5 million.

A section of Route 20 would be raised by three inches in a state transportation department project to prevent the chronic Passaic River flooding of the highway that winds along Paterson’s eastern border. The road raising would take place on the stretch of highway between 5th and 7th Avenues, according to the New Jersey Department of Transportation. The project is in the design stage with construction expected to start in the autumn of 2022. The Record

Reps. Bill Pascrell Jr. and Mikie Sherrill welcomed the passage for North Jersey of the Water Resources Development Act in the House of Representatives. Among the items in the bill of note for North Jersey are the Hudson-Raritan Estuary Ecosystem Restoration Project; the Peckman River Basin Flood Risk Management project; an update to the New York-New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Study; and the Army Corps to carry out a demonstration program for detecting, treating, preventing, and eliminating harmful algal blooms at Lake Hopatcong.

A bill to implement the public referendum legalizing adult-use marijuana in the Garden State was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill would create the organizational and regulatory systems required to oversee operations of the cannabis industry in New Jersey. Under the bill (S-21), 70% of sales tax revenue and 100% of “Social Equity Excise Fees” on cultivators would be allocated to aid “impact zones.” These zones would be defined as the communities hurt most by existing drug laws.

Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott donated $20 million to the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund. New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy said the gift—bringing the total amount raised to $61 million—will enable the nonprofit to continue its mission of addressing the social, economic and medical impact of COVID-19 on the state’s most vulnerable communities.

And finally…A mobster pleaded guilty in a plot against a ‘Real Housewives of New Jersey’ boyfriend. The New York Times

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