North Jersey News Roundup for Feb. 12, 2021

With the call center set up by the New Jersey Department of Health failing to live up to expectations, the state paused scheduling appointments by phone for the COVID-19 vaccine. “While the agents were working to assist those who wanted appointments, we discovered we needed to streamline the system on the agent end to prevent scheduling errors, and also offer further training to the agents so that they can best meet your needs,” said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli at a press briefing Feb. 10. “We hope to bring up their scheduling capability in the near future.”

President Joe Biden said the U.S. has struck deals to purchase 200 million more COVID-19 vaccine doses, from Pfizer and Moderna, each company providing 100 million vaccine doses. “It’s no secret that the vaccination program was in much worse shape than my team and I anticipated,” President Biden said in one of his most direct criticisms of former President Donald Trump. “My predecessor, to be very blunt about it, did not do his job to get ready for the massive challenge of vaccinating hundreds of millions of Americans.” As a result, President Biden expects it will take his team longer to address the pandemic because of what he called the Trump administration’s lack of planning. The Wall Street Journal

About 70 Rite Aid stores in New Jersey will start taking appointments and administering vaccinations on Feb. 12. The Rite Aid locations and their registration links will be included on the state’s list of vaccine sites; residents will not be able to register at Each store will receive about 100 doses per week to start.

Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to announce as early as Feb. 12 that parents will be allowed back into youth sports practices and games. Two parents or guardians will be allowed for each student athlete, according to reports, but the start date still has not be determined. The Daily Record 

Case rates for the coronavirus dropped last week in all six New Jersey regions tracked by the state— including two regions that were downgraded to a moderate risk category for the first time in 11 weeks. The two regions dropping from “high” to “moderate” were the Central West, made up of Hunterdon, Mercer and Somerset counties, and Southwest, consisting of Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem counties.

Republicans in the New Jersey State Senate plan to investigate the Murphy Administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, alleging its response to the public health crisis was “flawed.” Their hearings, after repeated attempts to have a bipartisan investigation were rebuffed by their Democratic colleagues, will be focused on deaths in nursing, veteran, and long-term care facilities; unemployment failures; and the impact on small business across the state. The first scheduled public meeting is set for March 5. The independent investigation will be led by North Jersey State Sens. Joe Pennacchio (R-26) and Kristin Corrado (R-40).

New Jersey’s Supreme Court rejected a proposal to release hundreds of people from jail who are awaiting trial, but they did say some should have their detention re-considered because of the coronavirus crisis. The pandemic has kept new trials at a standstill, and all seven justices agreed Feb. 11 that lower courts should consider setting free some people who have already waited six months behind bars and have not been accused of the most serious crimes, especially if health problems put them at greater risk. NJ Spotlight News

Lawyers for former President Donald J. Trump will have their first chance to counter the claim by Democratic House impeachment managers that Trump was personally responsible for inciting the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan 6. The former President’s lawyers are expected to use as few as three or four hours to mount its defense on Feb. 12. The New York Times

The push to restore fully the state and local tax (SALT) deduction is moving forward in Washington. Rep. Josh Gottheimer joined a House bipartisan group to introduce the SALT Deductibility Act, while at the same time Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker are pushing forward with the bill in the U.S. Senate. A pillar of U.S. tax policy since the Civil War, the SALT deduction allows taxpayers to write-off taxes paid at the state and local level from their federal income tax bill so they won’t be subject to being taxed twice on the same dollar.

Democratic State Senators plan to introduce legislation to create an independent public advocate office to help protect New Jersey‘s vulnerable populations. The legislation would give the public advocate, eliminated in 2010, broad investigatory powers, the ability to enter institutions at any time and meet with staff and inmates or residents, and the ability to file lawsuits if corrective actions are not undertaken. The mission of the office would be to “protect the safety and rights of (those) in state and county correctional facilities, veterans homes, psychiatric hospitals, developmental centers, community-based programs and under state guardianship,” according to State Sens. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), Linda Greenstein (D-14) and Nellie Pou (D-35). New Jersey Globe

Bergen County is illegally trying to bypass the state’s bidding process in a way barring a Wayne contractor from working on a renovation project in Hackensack, according to a lawsuit filed in state Superior Court. Dobco, Inc., alleges in its three-count complaint that company representatives were told the county is soliciting contractors under the state’s redevelopment and housing law instead of its public contracts law, which would demand officials award the job to the lowest responsible bidder. The Record

A revamped plan to introduce early in-person voting on machines in New Jersey was unanimously endorsed by a State Senate committee Feb. 11, starting with this Fall’s gubernatorial election. The length of the early voting period would vary based on the election, with ones that generally get the biggest turnout having the most days—10 days before a general election, six days before a presidential primary and four days before a non-presidential primary.

A dispute between Ridgefield Park and Little Ferry school districts over how much Little Ferry should pay to send its high school students to Ridgefield Park is in front of an administrative law court. Ridgefield Park’s district has told a judge it is in a “precarious financial position” and this year needs $5.1 million from Little Ferry’s district, which is objecting to the amount equal to 20% of its total operating budget. The Record

And finally….An icy Valentine’s Day is in the forecast for this weekend.

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