New Jersey state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) has introduced legislation that would, if passed in the Assembly and Senate and signed into law by the Governor, set new limits on emergency powers, ensure effective legislative oversight and restore the balance of power as envisioned by the state constitution.
“Since the start of the (coronavirus) pandemic (in March 2020), New Jerseyans have been shocked and outraged by extremely intrusive government mandates that have been issued under the emergency powers assumed by the Governor and the Executive Branch,” O’Scanlon was quoted as saying in a press release.
“It is unfathomable to many people that our laws would allow a single person to wield such an astonishing amount of authority with virtually no oversight.
“Our new legislation is based on our experience over the last two years and addresses the serious concerns expressed by both legislators and the constituents we represent.
“I have been in discussions with some of my Democrat colleagues and am proud to announce the bill will have bipartisan sponsorship,” he said.
Under current law, a state of emergency can remain in effect until terminated by the Governor, and a public health emergency can be declared for 30 days with subsequent 30-day extensions issued at the Governor’s sole discretion, according to the press release.
O’Scanlon’s new bill, S-1200, limits the duration of a state of emergency to 60 days unless an extension is authorized by the Legislature, and limits a public health emergency declaration to a total of 60 days (the initial 30-day duration and one 30-day renewal by the Governor as provided by current law) unless an extension is authorized by the Legislature, according to the press release.
Additionally, the measure provides the Legislature with the explicit authority to terminate both types of emergency declarations through a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
Finally, the bill prohibits the Governor from issuing for the same emergency a declaration to the same or substantially same effect as one terminated pursuant to the bill, except in accordance with a law that permits the issuance of another declaration specifically for that emergency, according to the press release.
“This bill does absolutely nothing controversial. It simply clearly enumerates what was the original intent of our state constitution. It also is very similar to polices in many other states,” O’Scanlon said.
“In fact, every other state in the nation currently provides more legislative oversight than does New Jersey. Our system is clearly an outlier.
“The framers of our state and federal constitutions knew a system of checks and balances in government is necessary to ensure people have a say in the policies that impact their lives through their elected representatives.
“Every single member of the New Jersey Legislature should want to sponsor and support this legislation, which would improve their ability to represent their constituents. To oppose this measure would be the equivalent of saying, ‘I choose not to do my job,’ ” O’Scanlon said.
“It doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with the Governor’s policies … our current law leaves too much power in the hands of one person, be he/she a Democrat or a Republican.
“It ignores our constitution in negating the democratic, co-equal branch of government model our country was founded upon.
“This bill simply, constructively and fairly re-balances New Jersey state government. No one who cares about good, balanced, fair democratic republic government can make a reasonable argument against this legislation.
“The Governor, too, should support this reasonable policy if he has been honest recently when he publicly said he desires to work in conjunction with the Legislature going forward. His support of this bill would simply be keeping that promise,” O’Scanlon said.
The current state of emergency declaration has been in effect since March 9, 2020, and a new public health emergency was declared early in January after the Legislature declined to advance a resolution extending various emergency powers that had been set to expire, according to the press release.
“At a certain point, we have to be willing to accept that this is no longer an emergency, it’s everyday life,” O’Scanlon said. “In everyday life, we have a regular legislative process that is designed to ensure important policy decisions are vetted in an open, public and transparent manner. Our democratic system of government functions best when it actually strives to be democratic.”