North Jersey News Roundup for May 4, 2021

In its most significant move to reopen the state in 14 months, New Jersey will eliminate many of their biggest coronavirus restrictions on May 19. Additionally, Gov. Phil Murphy announced capacity limits set to rise on May 10 will be moved up three days with a couple of additions, including the reopening of seating in restaurant bar areas. “With our COVID-19 numbers, particularly hospitalizations, trending decisively in the right direction and our vaccination goals within reach, now is the time to take major steps to reopen our economy and loosen both indoor and outdoor gathering and capacity restrictions,” said Murphy at a press briefing on May 3.

Newark, Garfield and Passaic are among the 16 municipalities with populations of more than 10,000 where fewer than 40% of eligible residents have received an initial dose. Gov. Phil Murphy said the state is working with local officials to increase vaccination rates in these and other locations. Newark has 38% of its residents receiving its first dose, with Garfield and Passaic at 39%. New Brunswick has the lowest vaccination level at 24%.

Anybody 21 and older who gets their first vaccine shot in the month of May may take their vaccination card to a participating brewery for a free beer as part of a “shot and beer” program to increase vaccination rates in New Jersey. State health officials and a dozen breweries in the state are taking part in the plan to encourage people who have yet to get a vaccine to make an appointment. News12 New Jersey

Col. Dr. Lisa J. Hou will be nominated to be the first woman and the first Asian American to oversee the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs by Gov. Phil Murphy. Hou, a decorated Army field surgeon, replaced Brigadier General Jemal J. Beale in October 2020 to temporarily oversee the department amid questions about whether enough was done to prevent COVID-19 deaths at the veterans homes.

Gov. Phil Murphy supports keeping in place an unwritten State Senate rule that allows members to indefinitely block gubernatorial nominees from their home county, backing a measure that has been used to stymie the governor’s own nominations. “I have to say my bias, just being asked it for the first time, is it’s a rightful element of a balance of power, even where it may frustrate you one day or another,” he said of senatorial courtesy. “At the end of the day, I think the notion of having the equal branches of government exercising their rights is, I think, a good thing.” New Jersey Globe

The recent debate between Assembly members Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Gordon Johnson revealed the significant differences in their records for Democratic voters choosing who would be the best representative in the State Senate for the 37th Legislative District. The two candidates staked their claim as being the best representative to continue the legacy of the retiring State Sen. Loretta Weinberg—Johnson portrayed himself as the candidate most attuned with the district while Vainieri Huttle pushed her campaign’s theme that she has been the one doing the hard work required of a legislator.

New Jersey may consider shutting down the state’s only women’s prison in the wake of new allegations of abuse, the head of the state’s corrections department told lawmakers May 3. An outside consultant will take a close look at whether to keep the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Hunterdon County open after decades of documented misconduct by staff, Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks said during a three-hour budget hearing before the Assembly Budget Committee. Hicks did not offer any further details and stressed that closure was just one of many changes that will be explored by the consultant. NJ Spotlight News

New Jersey Democrats in Congress broadly gave their support to President Joe Biden’s plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11) said pulling out combat troops is the right decision. “I think it is now time for us to move into the next phase which is diplomacy,” said Sherrill, a Navy veteran, in an interview with “I think we have achieved what we could achieve militarily. I think that we need to start moving out of Afghanistan. This was the right choice.”

Rep. Josh Gottheimer was named the most bipartisan Democratic member of the House of Representatives by The Lugar Center and the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University. “I’m incredibly proud to be named the most bipartisan House Democrat of the 116th Congress,” said Gottheimer, who was previously named the most bipartisan freshman Democrat in the 115th Congress. “Now, more than ever, we see the importance of putting country and governing over partisan politics and gridlock. I’m going to continue working together with anyone, Democrat or Republican, if the end result is good for Jersey and lives up to our values. That’s the only way we’ll actually solve the problems facing our nation and our communities.” Insider NJ 

Despite spending nearly $20 million on COVID-related improvements, Paterson officials have not yet decided when to resume in-person instruction. Teachers are balking at returning to classrooms after their union said its representative found broken windows in 17 schools, others with windows nailed shut, more than a dozen sites with missing scrubbers, and an inoperable HVAC system at one elementary school. The Record

The Sussex-Wantage Regional School District has asked the state to investigate unemployment claims paid to as many as 25% of district employees who may not have been eligible. The district is contesting payments to about 75 of the district’s 300 employees for claims dating back to July 2020 as only one or two were from full-time employees not rehired for the following school year and the rest appeared related to the cancellation of the Summer programs. School employees aren’t normally allowed to collect summer unemployment for lost Summer earnings unless it’s for non-school work and they have no school job to go back to in the Fall, according to the state Department of Labor. New Jersey Herald

Bogota’s borough clerk alleges she was retaliated against for refusing to break the law in a recently filed lawsuit against the borough and its administrator. Jeanne Cook filed a whistleblower lawsuit in Bergen County Superior Court claiming council members and Borough Administrator Joseph Scarpa retaliated against her because she would not change votes from previous meetings or alter resolutions. The Record

And finally…Community theaters are coming back with musicals in the park to intimate one-act plays. The Record

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