North Jersey News Roundup for March 24, 2021

Guidelines allowing for visitations at long-term care facilities in New Jersey during the coronavirus pandemic were revised that will result in increased interactions between residents and their loved ones. The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) is adopting federal guidance for visitation in long-term care facilities which allows for indoor visitation at all times regardless of the vaccination status of the resident or visitor—except for a few circumstances where visitation should be limited due to high risk of coronavirus transmission. “As the Spring holidays approach, we know it is essential for the health and well-being of long-term care residents that they visit with their loved ones,” said NJDOH Commissioner Judith Persichilli.

The majority of New Jersey residents who are minorities or lower-income want the COVID-19 vaccine, but are being inoculated at half the rates of white and richer residents, according to a Stockton University poll. About 30% of white respondents received a vaccine dose, compared to about 16% of Black respondents. A total of 27% of non-Hispanic residents said they got their shot, as compared to about 14% of Hispanic residents.

Variants of the coronavirus are multiplying and infecting a rapidly growing number of people in New Jersey and nationwide, with an 830% rise in mutant strains found in this state over the past five weeks. But testing is lagging as between public, private and academic labs, sequencing tests needed to screen for variants are only conducted in roughly 2% of the coronavirus tests given in New Jersey daily, according to the state’s Department of Health. NJ Spotlight News

Democratic legislators from North Jersey are calling on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to create a sixth Vet Center to serve the 36,000 military veterans who reside in the northwest corner of the state. A letter was sent to VA Secretary Denis McDonough from U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and Reps. Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11), Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) and Tom Malinowski (NJ-7), urging the agency to establish a Vet Center in either Morris or Sussex county to provide an option that is closer to home and remedy overcapacity issues.

President Joe Biden called for fast action to enact stricter gun laws, urging the U.S. Senate to pass a ban on assault weapons and to close background check loopholes after recent mass shooting events in Atlanta and Colorado. President Biden said doing so would be “common sense steps that will save lives in the future” in endorsing House Democrats recently passed two bills aimed at expanding and strengthening background checks for gun buyers by applying them to all purchases and extending the time the F.B.I. has to vet those flagged by the national instant check system. The New York Times

There were at least 1,441 bias incidents reported by New Jersey law enforcement agencies last year—a 45% increase over 2019, according to preliminary data released by the New Jersey State Police. Attacks against Black New Jerseyans, which make up the largest overall share of incidents in New Jersey, rose 84% over the previous year, while bias incidents targeted at Asians climbed 74%, up from 39 in 2019 to 68 in 2020. The Record

With Gov. Phil Murphy announcing the June primaries would be held in-person, state lawmakers began crafting new legislation to shore up the state’s voting processes. One bill would allow county boards of elections to relocate certain ballot drop boxes in order to ensure more equal distribution, while a second co-sponsored by Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-35) would protect voters from intimidation through the use of “poll watchers” and law enforcement officers being stationed at voting sites.

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg plans to revise her proposed bill calling for creating an office to investigate sexual harassment during campaigns after critics said the bill doesn’t go far enough to prevent harm and protect victims from retaliation. During an open forum held by the Members of the Workgroup on Harassment, Sexual Assault and Misogyny in New Jersey Politics March 23, Weinberg said she would attempt to incorporate suggestions including removing political appointments to the Safe Campaigns Advisory Board and expand the time frame requiring investigations to be finished within 60 days.

Talks between Gov. Phil Murphy’s office and legislative leadership about funding plans for the Schools Development Authority (SDA) have stalled. According to SDA CEO Manuel Da Silva, Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin had been engaged in discussions about the future of the SDA and how to go about funding the agency responsible for construction in some of the state’s neediest school districts, but the pandemic has tabled talks and uncovered major issues with ventilation, windows and space for social distancing affecting the SDA’s focus. PoliticoNJ

Preliminary work on three of 14 projects to widen sections of the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway as part of a larger $24 billion capital construction plan are moving forward. Contracts have been awarded for projects to widen the Turnpike’s Hudson County extension, replace the Newark Bay Bridge and projects to widen parts of the Parkway in Ocean County and the Turnpike in South Jersey.

A State Senate committee passed a bill spinning off part of the Public Employees’ Retirement System into a fund managed more directly by local governments and unions. After failing to pass the Senate’s government committee, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) made the highly unusual move of transferring the bill to the Senate Budget committee were it passed by an 8-0 vote with four abstentions despite half of the lawmakers who voted for it expressing concerns and urging Sweeney not to post it for a vote until meeting with opponents.

The Asbury Park Press fired a multimedia reporter whose news story included a photo caption deemed offensive to women and Jewish people. The move comes after Gov. Phil Murphy sharply criticized the the paper and it owner, Gannett, for the photo caption that included misogynistic and ethnic slurs as “completely, utterly unacceptable, really offensive—offensive at so many different levels…someone has to pay a price for that.” New Jersey Globe

Union City has designated a “safe trade station” at its police station for online sales, with surveillance cameras from the police department ensuring that the exchange is executed as safely as possible. The city put up a sign marking its first location on 38th Street near Palisade Avenue offering residents safe ways to complete online transactions from websites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and Instagram. The Jersey Journal

And finally…the demolition of the Chatterbox in Frankford has begun, to be replaced by a Wawa expected to open early 2022. New Jersey Herald

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