North Jersey News Roundup for Feb. 18, 2021

The UK variant of the coronavirus has made New Jersey officials hesitant to ease restrictions imposed during the pandemic. “But for the variant, we were planning a much more fulsome opening over the next couple of weeks,” said Gov. Phil Murphy at a press briefing Feb. 17. “But the variants are hanging over our head. We are watching this like a hawk.” New Jersey Department of Health Dr. Eddy Bresnitz added “Those decisions about loosening the restrictions still have to be made even if we are concerned about the variants. But at the same time we have to be ready to stop and reverse course if necessary.”

Gov. Phil Murphy extended New Jersey’s public-health emergency over the coronavirus pandemic for a 12th time, meaning the order will be in place for at least a full year as of early next month. It’s a move Murphy says helps officials continue rolling out a vaccine as the second wave of the illness shows signs of waning. New Jersey Herald

New Jersey lawmakers ended their weeks-long effort to compromise with Gov. Phil Murphy on underage penalties for marijuana use. As passed, the legalization bill makes underage possession a disorderly persons offense similar to alcohol, but the decriminalization bill does away with all penalties. The current options the Governor has is either sign the bills into law, veto the bills or conditionally veto the bills and send them back to the Legislature, where lawmakers could vote to accept the changes.

Three COVID-19 mega sites, including the Rockaway Townsquare in Morris County, were closed on Feb. 18 due to the impending snowstorm forecast to drop up to eight inches in North Jersey. Appointments for the Rockaway location have been rescheduled for Feb. 20. News12 New Jersey

A bipartisan group of lawmakers want to allocate $300 million to fund emergency loans and grants to help New Jersey’s small businesses and non-profit organizations struggling to stay afloat amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Support would be available to entities that lost revenue due to pandemic-related shutdowns and slowdowns caused by state-mandated restrictions, as well as those whose reopening plans were disrupted. The aid would be funneled to impacted businesses and organizations through the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

Machines that let New Jerseyans buy Bitcoin and other digital currency are easy targets for fraud because of a lack of oversight, according to a new State Commission of Investigation report.  The independent watchdog recommended requiring government IDs to conduct transactions and said a license should be mandated to operate a kiosk after investigating 30 businesses managing 300 cryptocurrency kiosks.

Two seperate bills under consideration in Trenton would allow for increased shared services to the over 1,000 governmental bodies in New Jersey. The State Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee recently approved a bill to modify the “Uniform Shared Services and Consolidation Act” to encourage and facilitate the provision of local and regional services through shared service agreements and joint contracts. Meanwhile, a proposed law sponsored by Assemblywoman Aura Dunn permitting municipalities with a population under 5,000 to hire nonresident emergency management coordinators passed the Assembly’s Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle said the threat of a challenge for her Assembly seat will not stop her from seeking the Democratic nomination for the State Senate seat in the 37th Legislative District. “The stakes are too high for people to be playing chicken with public office. I am not threatened and I will not be silenced. It is really sad that in 2021 some people think threatening women in power still works. The arrogance and entitlement that I have experienced throughout this process is disturbing,” Vainieri Huttle said. “Let’s let the democratic process play out, or is that what they’re scared of?” New Jersey Globe

The number of registered Republicans in the Garden State increased 355 between Jan. 1 and Feb. 1. Comparatively, the number of registered Democrats and total voters both declined, Democrats by close to 1,000 and all registrants by more than 12,000. NJ Spotlight News

Michael Pappas, a former one-term U.S. congressman from Somerset County, will be the Republican candidate for State Senate in the 16th Legislative District. Pappas is now the presumptive nominee for the open seat of retiring State Sen. Christopher Bateman (R-16) after two other candidates, former Rep. Dick Zimmer and former Montgomery Mayor Ted Maciag, withdrew from the race. New Jersey Globe

A developer alleges Morristown failed to hand over public records about corruption requested through the Open Public Records Act in a timely manner in a recently filed lawsuit. Speedwell LLC’s alleges it filed the request to get the records to provide answers to “four questions related to apparent corruption that has occurred in Morristown” in connection with development in the Speedwell area. The Daily Record

Hoboken will increase parking meter rates in its business districts, charging $0.50 for every 15 minutes starting March 5. Besides the new rates, taking effect on Washington Street, 14th Street, First Street, River Street, and the Hoboken Terminal area, the city will offer discounts to those who use a ParkMobile promo code, offer local business employees discounted parking at municipal garages, and offer customers discounted validated parking in municipal garages in order to free up on-street parking. Hudson Reporter

The Montclair Township Council voted to curtail the use of gas-powered leaf blowers. The new ordinance reduces the number of days the machines can be used each year, only for two months in the Spring and two months in the Fall. Additionally, the law pushes back the start time for the use of gas-powered leaf blowers to 9 a.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. on Saturdays. Electric leaf blowers can be used any time. The Record

And finally….Rush Limbaugh died at the age of 70 after battling lung cancer. The New York Times

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