North Jersey News Roundup for Feb. 5, 2021

With the expansion of the COVID-19 vaccine to pharmacies by the federal government starting next week, Gov. Phil Murphy believes it will begin to rectify the issues of access for underserved communities. “Since most Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy, this program will expand our footprint in areas of high need and is poised to receive direct allocation from the federal government without tapping into the state supply,” said Murphy at a press briefing Feb. 3. “The big point is that’s (this is) another channel in addition to the doses that we’re getting as a state.”

Rite Aid confirmed it will be offering COVID-19 vaccines but the company is not releasing locations yet. Rite Aid joins CVS as the two chain retail pharmacies that have announced they will be part of the Biden Administration’s plan to administer COVID-19 vaccine in New Jersey.  

Johnson & Johnson filed for emergency use authorization of its single-dose coronavirus vaccine on Feb. 4 from the U.S. government. If approved, the company would provide a third option to immunize hundreds of millions of Americans. The J&J shot is 66% effective broadly against moderate to severe infection but provides strong protection against hospitalization and death, according to a global study. The New Jersey-based company has agreed to distribute 100 million doses to the U.S. after approval. PoliticoNJ

The U.S. Senate approved a budget plan for President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. The bill includes monies to bolster federal unemployment assistance, send $1,400 direct checks to many Americans, provide funds for vaccine distribution and offer aid to schools. The House, which earlier passed its own budget resolution, will take up the Senate’s version. The Wall Street Journal

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) was stripped of her seats on congressional committees for endorsing the executions of Democrats and spreading dangerous and bigoted misinformation. The House voted 230 to 199 to remove Greene from the Education and Budget Committees, with 11 Republicans including New Jersey’s Rep. Chris Smith joining Democrats to support the move. The action came after the congresswoman’s past anti-semitic and racist statements and espousing of QAnon and other conspiracy theories. The New York Times

President Joe Biden’s decision to reimburse the states for the early costs of responding to the coronavirus pandemic will bring another $300 million to New Jersey. The latest Federal Emergency Management Agency funds will reimburse the state for its costs of first deploying the New Jersey’s National Guard before the federal government began covering expenses, the 25% local share of Guard deployment paid from August to January, and the purchase of personal protective equipment and other supplies.

Legislation designed to protect New Jersey businesses from additional tax complications after receiving Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds advanced through the State Senate. The bipartisan bill cosponsored by State Sen. Anthony M. Bucco (R-25) would ensure any PPP loans that were forgiven by the federal government would be exempt under New Jersey’s gross income tax. The proposed legislation would align with the federal government’s intent for the loans to be forgivable, and respect businesses that maintained employee payrolls even when there was little or nothing to do at work.

New unemployment filings decreased for the third consecutive week in New Jersey, the state’s Labor Department announced Feb. 4. The total initial unemployment claims since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020 to nearly 2 million. The department saw 14,606 new filings for the week ending Jan. 30, a 12% drop in new claims from the week prior.

In the 39th district, Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi is mounting a challenge to current State Sen. Gerald Cardinale to be the GOP nominee in the 2021 election. Both candidates are whipping votes to win the support to gain the Bergen County Republican organization line at their March convention. “The decision to run (is) based solely on what is best for the future of our party, the people of the 39th legislative district and how best I can serve them,” said Schepisi.

Three correctional officers at New Jersey’s only women’s prison have been charged with official misconduct and accused of other crimes by the state attorney general’s office after female inmates at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility said they were severely beaten by staff last month. Sgt. Amir E. Bethea faces two counts of second-degree official misconduct and two counts of third-degree tampering with public records, Sgt. Anthony J. Valvano was charged with second-degree official misconduct and third-degree tampering with public records and Officer Luis A. Garcia, who allegedly punched one woman 28 times around the face, was charged with second-degree aggravated assault, second-degree official misconduct and third-degree tampering with public records. State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the investigation was hampered by officers who lied and “attempted to cover it up by filing false reports about the incident, downplaying the seriousness of the incident and failing to document the true nature of the officer’s actions that evening.” The Record

New Jersey pension funds have lost an incalculable amount of money because of a loophole in state workers’ compensation policies allowing injured employees to collect taxpayer-funded medical benefits and full disability pensions for the same injury, according to a Office of the State Comptroller report. The policies, which date back 15 years, operate contrary to state law and largely do not give workers any extra money, but they are a windfall for private and public insurers. New Jersey Herald

People caught with “magic” mushrooms in New Jersey will face less jail time and lower fines. Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill into law that downgrades the offense, making possession of up to one ounce of psilocybin a disorderly person’s offense instead of a third degree crime. People previously charged with possession could face between three and five years in prison; the harshest penalties now will be six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. The Daily Record

New Jersey now has just under 1.1 million more registered Democrats than Republicans, according to voter registration data from the state Division of Elections. The state has approximately 6.5 million voters, reduced by 12,461 which election officials attribute to the cleaning up of voter rolls after the November general election. The New Jersey electorate is now made up of 39% Democratic, 27% Unaffiliated and 22% Republican. New Jersey Globe

And finally…Around 1 to 2 inches of snow is expected to fall for some areas in Northern Jersey Feb. 5. New Jersey Herald

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