North Jersey News Roundup for March 11, 2021

Gov. Phil Murphy raised indoor capacities for the second time in five weeks as key coronavirus health metrics continue to improve. Effective March 19 at 6 a.m., New Jersey restaurants and bars, recreational and amusement businesses, gyms and fitness clubs and personal care businesses can operate at 50% indoor capacity. On the same day, indoor gatherings will rise to 25 individuals from its current 10 person limit; outdoor gatherings will be capped at 50 individuals, up from 25.

The Biden administration published revised guidelines for nursing home visits during the coronavirus pandemic, allowing guests to go inside to see residents regardless of whether they or the residents have been vaccinated. The guidance allows for “responsible indoor visitation” at all times unless a guest is visiting an unvaccinated resident in a county where the COVID-19 positivity rate is higher than 10% and less than 70% of residents in the nursing home have been fully vaccinated. Additionally, the guidance says to limit visits if residents have the coronavirus or are in quarantine and compassionate care visits should be allowed regardless of vaccination status or the county’s positivity rate. The New York Times

North Jersey State Sens. Joe Pennacchio and Kristin Corrado blasted Gov. Phil Murphy’s pick for assistant CEO at the Menlo Park veterans home, continuing a trend of criticizing the governor regarding actions at long-term care facilities. “The Governor’s bold idea for new leadership to fix our veterans homes is to bring back those who failed the first time around” said Pennacchio (R-26), with Corrado (R-40) adding “I can’t imagine the state can’t find more qualified candidates without the baggage.”

President Joe Biden plans to sign the $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid bill on March 12. The relief bill, marking President Biden’s first major legislative achievement of his presidency, offers a $1,400 check to many Americans, an extension of a $300 weekly jobless-aid supplement, and a one-year expansion of the child tax credit that will provide periodic payments for many households. The new law disburses money to schools, vaccine distribution efforts and state and local governments, provides support to struggling multiemployer pensions, and makes the biggest changes to the Affordable Care Act since its passage in 2010, among other measures. The Wall Street Journal

New Jersey health officials announced the first case of the more contagious coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa has been confirmed in the state. The case in Hudson County brings the total number of variant cases found in New Jersey to 145. News12 New Jersey

The first wave of 675 Paterson school district employees will be getting COVID-19 vaccines next week. The district last week sent emails to all 3,909 employees letting them know about the availability of the voluntary vaccines for educators. About 1,200 said they would get inoculations and the rest did not respond. The Record

Assembly lawmakers heard repeated calls to increase aid for those hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic during the state’s first public budget hearing. Residents and issue advocates who testified using a virtual format due to the lingering health crisis asked for more funding for programs that assist low-income residents, including those who’ve suffered job losses or have been unable to find affordable housing. Testimony was offered for more state aid for those dealing with mental health issues and addiction problems, and for seniors, veterans and those with disabilities who’ve struggled with isolation during COVID-19 lockdowns as well. NJ Spotlight News

The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce lobbied state officials to use discretionary aid in the proposed budget to fund additional grants and loans to businesses in New Jersey that are struggling to survive the pandemic. The chamber believes aid assistance should include providing at least $500 million in grants and loans to small businesses, continuing to reduce the cost of personal protection equipment and replenishing the unemployment insurance fund.

Assemblyman Robert Auth (R-39) said he hasn’t decided if he will challenge State Sen.-elect Holly Schepisi (R-39) in the June Republican primary. “As for future plans, I have made no decisions and all options remain open,” Auth said, who came within eight votes of capturing a State Senate seat at the county GOP meeting.  “When appropriate, I will make an announcement about next steps.” New Jersey Globe

Jersey City officials want the Board of Education to support temporary amnesty for businesses that are late in paying their payroll taxes. City officials argued the amnesty program will ensure there is no delay in payroll tax revenue flowing to the school district and the prospect of a hefty interest payment could deter a business that has avoided the payroll tax to remain delinquent. The Jersey Journal

County prosecutors across New Jersey are lining up in opposition to a bill they say would eliminate a deterrent to public corruption. Prosecutors, who are backing the position of Gov. Phil  Murphy and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, have balked at a late amendment to mandatory minimum reform bill due to official misconduct being added to the list of offenses covered. The crime of official misconduct is specific to illegal activity by an elected public official or a public employee.

The New Jersey Attorney General in the last week secured indictments for official misconduct for North Jersey officials in Paterson and Saddle Brook. Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal on March 3 announced Paterson Councilmen Michael Jackson and Alex Mendez were indicted by a state grand jury on charges of election fraud and other offenses related to the May 12, 2020 special election. Five days later, Saddle Brook Police Chief Robert Kugler was charged with ordering on-duty police officers to use police department vehicles for his business. As a result of the indictment, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office has taken over supervision of day-to-day operations of the Saddle Brook Police Department.

Hackettstown residents can participate in St. Patrick’s Day activities this weekend despite COVID-19 causing the cancellation of the town’s annual parade. From today through Sunday, a dozen Hackettstown businesses will offer up St. Patrick’s-themed food and drink and deals on goods as bagpipers walk down Main Street. A family-friendly scavenger hunt organized by the Hackettstown Business Improvement District is also on the schedule as a way to get more residents to visit local businesses. New Jersey Herald

And finally…Sussex County Fairgrounds will hold a series of drive-in concerts starting April 30. New Jersey Herald

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