North Jersey News Roundup for April 29, 2021

Gov. Phil Murphy’s “major” reopening announcement struck a minor chord among the state’s Republicans—and one the governor is set to address next week. “There’s nothing ‘major’ about being meek, especially when other states across the nation have rescinded their limits in full and are getting back to living,” said State Sen. Steve Oroho (R-24) of the April 26 restrictions eased for outdoor and some indoor gatherings. In response to New York opening up bars and restaurants starting May 3, the governor said “You’re going to see us accelerating opening up of the state. There’s just no other way to put it,” said Murphy.

All six of New Jersey’s coronavirus vaccine mega sites will offer walk-in vaccinations going forward. Anyone 16 and older living, working or studying in New Jersey is eligible for COVID-19 vaccines without an appointment, including at the two North Jersey sites at the Meadowlands in Bergen County and the Rockaway Township Mall in Morris County.

New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission’s Chief Administrator Sue Fulton said the agency failed customers in the early days of the pandemic. “I’d say the experience for customers in the first few months was a D or an F,” stated Fulton during a state senate budget and appropriations committee hearing. “Customer service in the six months following our closure was unacceptable, and I would say even today it’s unacceptable for those customers who have an appointment canceled and aren’t able to get an appointment for weeks.” Fulton said the grade did not apply to MVC front line workers, who processed 20% more transactions than in the pre-coronavirus years.

New Jersey motorists who are being driven to frustration by prolonged closures of Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) agencies may get some relief from legislation introduced in the State Senate. State Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-25), a frequent MVC critic, has offered new legislation that aims to keep agency locations open; under current operating procedures, an MVC agency closes for up to 14 days when a single employee tests positive for COVID-19. “There simply is no good excuse for the repeated disruption of service at our MVC agencies,” stated Bucco.

Transportation Commissioner Dianne Gutierrez told a State Senate panel that traffic on New Jersey’s roads has almost fully recovered from the pandemic. “Traffic on the state highway system is almost normal, and traffic on the toll roads is also close to returning entirely,” said Gutierrez during budget hearings in Trenton. News12 New Jersey

Sussex County’s Board of Commissioners have scheduled a November referendum question to force a state investigation into COVID-19 deaths of residents of nursing and veterans homes. The resolution for the referendum states “On behalf of the residents of long-term care facilities who died from COVID-19 and their families, the Voters of Sussex County” direct the commissioners to use all legal actions to compel the governor and state legislature to “hold an independent, public, bipartisan legislative investigation” to look at government policies, regulations and oversight of long-term care facilities and veterans homes. New Jersey Herald

The choice to be the Democratic nominee for the 37th Legislative District is cut and dry for Valerie Vainieri Huttle’s running mates Gervonn Romney Rice and Lauren Kohn Dayton. “In our district, there is no contest here: Valerie Vainieri Huttle passed so much legislation with compassion and humanity for our district,” said Kohn Dayton. “While Gordon Johnson is a very good statesman, there is no comparison in legislative record.” When it comes to their opponents, former Tenafly Councilwoman Shama Haider and former Englewood Cliffs Councilwoman Ellen Park, Romney Rice plainly states, “We are not just in it for the sake of wearing a title…Our proven track record is what sets us apart.”

Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Josh Gottheimer are part of a small bipartisan negotiating group looking to pass police reform legislation. The lawmakers are in talks to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that looks to end racial and religious profiling, bans chokeholds and no-knock warrants, requires deadly force be used only as a last resort after officers have employed de-escalation techniques first, limits the transfer of military-grade equipment to law enforcement agencies and would make it easier to hold officers accountable in court by limiting qualified immunity. CBS News

Anarchists, animal rights extremists, and militia extremists are among the most pressing homeland security threats in the Garden State, according to a recent report from the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. Militia extremists were said to “likely focus on targeting government officials and law enforcement with threats of violence surrounding issues of perceived government overreach,” White racially motivated extremists would work in small cells to distribute propaganda throughout New Jersey and Black racially motivated extremists were said to engage in low-level criminal activity, with lone offenders known to engage in isolated attacks.

Republicans in the Florida Legislature passed an election overhaul bill set to usher in a host of voting restrictions in one of the most critical battleground states in the country, adding to the national push by G.O.P. state lawmakers to reduce voting access. The new bill would limit the use of drop boxes; add more identification requirements for those requesting absentee ballots; require voters to request an absentee ballot for each election, rather than receive them automatically through an absentee voting list; limit who could collect and drop off ballots; further empower partisan observers during the ballot-counting process and expand a current rule that prohibits outside groups from providing items “with the intent to influence” voters within a 150-foot radius of a polling location. The New York Times

Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law a bill requiring Newark Liberty International Airport and Newark Liberty International Train Station workers to be paid prevailing wages and expand health benefits. The bill, sponsored by a Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37), goes into effect Sept. 1 and requires eligible workers not be paid less than the minimum wage established by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey or the prevailing wage set by the state commissioner of labor. New Jersey Globe

Palisades Park officials and attorneys are disputing a state comptroller’s report that claimed the borough wasted hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on sick-time payouts. Borough official believe  the number could be as low as $538 or, if part-time employees are included, as high as $13,000 compared with the 56-page comptroller’s report that found in 2018 Palisades Park gave more than $109,000 in sick-leave payouts to 27 employees and $95,000 in 2019 to 22 employees who, under a 2010 law, should not have received them. The Record

The Jersey City school district reopened April 29 for in-person schooling for the first time in nearly 14 months. Only 190 of the district’s approximately 4,500 staff members did not report to their buildings as the school began hybrid learning for students in Pre-K-3rd Grade. About 25% of students eligible have chosen to return to school buildings, according to attendance and enrollment data. The Jersey Journal

And finally…Food & Wine named New Jersey the best pizza state in America.

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