North Jersey News Roundup for March 3, 2021

Gov. Phil Murphy was unequivocally on what he believes the first day of school will look like next year. “We would fully expect, assuming things go the direction they’re going, that we will be in person for school in September,” said Gov. Phil Murphy at a press briefing March 1. “I will be very surprised and disappointed if we’re not.” Murphy was optimistic that in-person instruction will continue to increase through the rest of the school year, stating “I think we will get there, and we are getting there at a minimum in a hybrid format.”

President Joe Biden stated the United States was “on track” to have enough supply of COVID-19 vaccines “for every adult in America by the end of May,” accelerating his stated goal by two months. President Biden said his administration had provided support to Johnson & Johnson that would enable the company and its partners to make vaccines around the clock, including brokering a deal in which Merck & Co. would help manufacture the new Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. The New York Times

Hawthorne students at all five public schools will be on a new schedule that builds in twice as much time for in-person learning per week. On March 15, two hybrid groups at each school will combine to form one group that will get live instruction for four half-days per week. Afternoon classes will remain fully remote for the whole district. Students who opted for fully remote learning will not be able to join their peers in school until the fourth marking quarter begins on April 12. The Record

North Jersey GOP lawmakers rebuked Gov. Phil Murphy’s budget allocations for education across the state, arguing it would hamstring underfunded districts. Assemblyman Parker Space (R-24) commented that since Murphy has taken office in 2017, there has been an “assault” on school districts in Northwestern New Jersey. Assemblyman Hal Wirths (R-24) added, “Time and time again, our taxpayers have been asked to pay more out of their own pockets to fund Gov. Murphy’s progressive agenda. It is completely unfair.”

Two outbreaks of Ebola virus in Africa led the federal Centers for Disease Control to take steps to track passengers from those nations arriving in the U.S. All flights carrying passengers who spent time in Guinea or the Democratic Republic of the Congo within 21 days of their arrival must land at one of six American airports— including Newark Liberty International— starting March 3. New Jersey Herald

Unpaid utility bills in New Jersey currently exceed $700 million as a shut-off moratorium is scheduled to end March 15. More than 1.2 million gas, electric and water accounts were in arrears at the end of the year—mostly residential accounts, as well as 144,000 commercial and industrial accounts. NJ Spotlight News 

State Sen. Anthony M. Bucco chastised Gov. Phil Murphy for saying allocating additional funding for the state’s unemployment system would amount to “throwing good money after bad.” Bucco (R-25) took issue with the governor’s belief that the state should wait to fund systemic changes with its unemployment system until federal changes occurred in light of a budget increased by nearly 10% but still not making a greater investment in upgrading the unemployment system. “Governor Murphy has a multi-billion dollar surplus already banked and is likely to get another $6 billion in federal aid in the coming weeks,” added Bucco. “It’s an insult to every New Jerseyan.”

The makeup of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission is coming under fire from the state NAACP for failing to include as members a Black man and someone directly connected to a group that fights racial injustice. Among five commissioners and an executive director, the commission includes a Black woman but no Black men, nor a representative the NAACP says clearly meets a statutory requirement. Murphy administration officials said Dianna Houenou, the commission’s chair, meets the requirement as she previously worked for the ACLU.

The State Supreme Court recently proposed new questions to be posed to prospective jurors to try to pinpoint any unconscious assumptions about race, ethnicity, religion or other characteristics. The proposal would include changing the instructions given to juries before they head into deliberations to urge them to check any internal biases. The Daily Record

Federal law enforcement agencies are using undercover stings and charges not directly related to terrorism, like gun violations, to arrest suspected domestic extremists as part of an aggressive effort to head off potential attacks. The FBI currently has roughly 2,000 open domestic-terrorism investigations, double the number the bureau was actively probing in 2017. The Wall Street Journal

Palisades Park has hired three former police chiefs as consultants for the department instead of a civilian police director— Richard Molinari from Union City, James O’Conner from Lyndhurst and Anthony Fulco from Passaic County. The borough decision to hire additional oversight is the result of a departmental review two years ago that criticized most of its policies and procedures. The three new hires will earn about $50,000 each, the monies coming from the retirement of two of the department’s captains who were not replaced. The Record

A state investigation found Palisades Park officials ignored New Jersey laws capping sick leave payouts for employees, reimbursed employees for personal expenses and “wasted” hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to a state investigation. The State Comptroller’s Office found “widespread financial mismanagement” that enriched its employees in violation of state laws and at the expense of taxpayers. The investigation identified contract, collective bargaining provisions and employee perks far more generous than allowed under state law and mismanagement of expense reimbursements and fuel purchases.

West Milford officials are preparing a townwide tax abatement program and relaxed zoning that will let homeowners build more with less. The pending tax abatement program would levy no property tax for five years on the first $15,000 in improvements to homes more than 20 years old, saving participating homeowners up to roughly $560 per year based on 2020’s tax rate. The program is a way to encourage improvements without losing — just deferring — the overall assessed value. The Record

And finally…Dr. Oz helped Port Authority police revive a man who collapsed at a luggage carousel at Newark Liberty International Airport.  

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