North Jersey News Roundup for March 31, 2021

Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law a bill that now requires early voting hours in each of the state’s 21 counties, mandating three to seven polling places for machine voting in the days before an election that Democrat activist Stacey Abrams categorized “as taking us in the right direction.” Abrams and Murphy both noted the bill was passed by Trenton lawmakers on the same day Georgia’s governor signed into law the view as restricting voting access. “It is incredulous that the response to those that claim that last year’s election was ‘rigged,’ against all evidence to the contrary, are now doing their damndest openly and unapologetically to rig elections by suppressing voter rights,” said Murphy. “They couldn’t prove the Big Lie in any court of law so instead they are writing the Big Lie into law.”

President Joe Biden will unveil a $2 trillion infrastructure plan to take place over eight years on March 31 that is expected to include monies for the Gateway project. The plan would include 20,000 miles of rebuilt roads, repairs to the 10 most economically important bridges in the country, and the elimination of lead pipes and service lines from the nation’s water supplies among other projects. President Biden will promote the program as creating millions of jobs in the short run, strengthen American competitiveness in the long run, accelerate the fight against climate change by hastening the shift to new, cleaner energy sources, and would help promote racial equity in the economy. The New York Times

As cases continue to rise in New Jersey and surrounding states, Gov. Phil Murphy stated “We’re at a pretty critical moment…There’s good news and bad news. I continue to think the good news outweighs the bad. But the bad news is real.” There were 2,329 coronavirus patients across the state’s hospitals as of March 29 — the most since Feb. 15 as hospitalizations have been slowly creeping up the last two weeks.

New Jersey state statisticians predict that even in their best-case scenario, this summer will see thousands more new COVID cases each day compared to the previous summer. Health officials are expected to detail at a press briefing March 31 different models that account for assumptions about when 70% of New Jerseyans get vaccinated, on how good they are at blocking coronavirus variants, and on how well New Jerseyans continue social distancing. The Daily Record

Gov. Phil Murphy clarified that students and teachers who have health issues that could put them at greater risk of a serious coronavirus case will have a virtual option. “I did not intend to include folks who have some immunity or some other issue with their health where that could put them at risk,” the governor said. “But I did mean that Monday through Friday, schools are open for business, and unless you’ve got some sort of health challenge of one sort or the other, we fully expect we’re in business for school.” It will be up to districts to determine who would be allowed to participate in virtual learning and how. News12 New Jersey

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine safely protects kids 12 years and older in a trial by the company, results likely to lead to inoculating the children before the next school year. According to the company, the vaccine was 100% effective in protecting against symptomatic disease in a study of more than 2,200 children with no safety concerns and plans to ask U.S. health regulators in the coming weeks to expand use of the shots to 12- to 15-year-olds. The Wall Street Journal

A new report from New Jersey Hospital Association finds that 86% of patients hospitalized with severe coronavirus illness were successfully treated and discharged, equating to a total of more than 66,000 individuals through March 10, 2021. The COVID-patient release rate at New Jersey hospitals increased to 88.6% in February 2021 from 73.7% in April 2020. According to the report, that increase in the survival rate suggests 7,000 deaths were averted due to hospital innovations and continued improvements in care.

Districts in Hudson County are preparing more robust summer school programs to offer remedial and enhanced learning for students whose learning was impeded while remote. Harrison is planning to offer every student the opportunity to participate in summer schooling and will involve field trips as an extra draw, West New York will extend programming for students of all levels, plus special opportunities for students in bilingual learning and those studying robotics to catch up on in-person work and Kearny plans to put an extra emphasis on mathematics, which has proven to be the subject that students have had the most trouble with while remote. The Jersey Journal

Republican lawmakers continued their hearings on the Murphy Administration’s response to the pandemic, focusing on the inability to process unemployment claims that continue to this day. The panel of GOP lawmakers on March 26 from both the State Senate and Assembly heard testimony from residents frustrated by the inability of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development to process their claims as well as experts that offered areas where officials could have sped up the process. “The administration failed to assess the scope of the problems, the dire, life-threatening severity of the impact of the challenges people were facing,” said State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-13).

Essex County Republicans awarded their organization line for State Assembly in the 26th district to just incumbent BettyLou DeCroce with no endorsement made for the second seat. The move comes after Morris County Republicans voted to award their organization line to Assemblyman Jay Webber and challenger Christian Barranco, an IBEW Local 102 official. The following night, Passaic County Republicans voted to give their line to DeCroce and Barranco. New Jersey Globe

Suspended Saddle Brook Police Chief Robert Kugler has been endorsed by the Bergen County Republican Organization to challenge Democratic incumbent Anthony Cureton for the county sheriff’s position this Fall. Kugler, charged earlier this month with misconduct and corruption by the state’s Attorney General, defeated Midland Park Mayor Harry Shortway by a margin of 3 votes to 1 at the organization’s convention March 30. The Record

An investigation for the state Attorney General’s Office found a “breakdown in communication” between New Jersey State Police and the Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office over a 2017 sex assault case but no signs of undue political influence. In a report released March 30, the investigation led by former federal prosecutor Matthew Beck blamed tensions between the two agencies as well as confusion over the state’s new bail reform law for the dispute. New Jersey Herald

State Sen. Richard Codey (D-27) introduced a bill that would add media members to the list of protected classes covered under New Jersey’s bias intimidation law. Codey said he introduced the legislation after seeing the heated rhetoric against journalists by former President Donald Trump, who often called reporters who wrote critical articles “enemies of the people.” PoliticoNJ

New Jersey will increase outdoor gathering limits and increase capacity events at entertainment venues despite new coronavirus cases continuing to climb in the Garden State. Beginning April 2, outdoor gathering limits will increase to 200 people and banquet halls will be able to expand past weddings. Additionally, the state is expanding the sports and entertainment venues by lowering seating capacity eligible to 2,500 from 5,000; capacity limits at these venues will increase to 20% indoors and 30% outdoors, doubling their current limitations.

Lenders behind the American Dream megamall project are in the final stages of taking a 49% stake in two other malls owned by developer Triple Five that were used as collateral for a $1.2 billion construction loan in New Jersey. The loan that was defaulted on is held largely by JP Morgan, along with Goldman, Starwood Capital, CIM Group, Soros Fund Management, Wafra and iStar. The restructuring was expected to close as early as “this week,” although the process has been complicated by the number of lenders and could be delayed.

And finally…Jersey Mike’s will donate all sales to local charities today.

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