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Judge to hear arguments against capital entry requirements, prompting Republicans and Democrats to trade barbs

(The Center Square) – A judge set a possible date to hear arguments over a mandate that visitors to the New Jersey State House in Trenton either be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or show a recent negative COVID test.

The mandate prompted state Republicans to take legal action. On Thursday, Judge Allison Accurso in the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, set Dec. 13 as a possible date for a hearing on the legal action, the Associated Press reported.

According to the report, state troopers initially stopped Republicans who refused to comply with the mandate from entering the Assembly chamber on Thursday. However, according to the Associated Press, troopers relented and allowed the lawmakers to enter without proving their vaccination status or showing a negative test.

“No matter what was said at the session, the people who lost their livelihoods, and the children who didn’t go to school, and the sacrifices made by people across New Jersey and the country were exacerbated because of government mandates that went unchecked. Just like the mandate that we fought today,” Assemblyman John DiMaio, R-Hackettstown, said in a statement.

“Over the last year there were sessions with just as many or more cases and just as high or higher transmission rates with no or fewer vaccinations,” DiMaio, the Assembly Republican leader elect, added. “Everything went fine. You can check the state Covid-19 database. It is plain and clear.”

Tuesday marked the first session for the lame-duck legislature following November’s election.

“Democrats came down to do the people’s business, complying with a reasonable common sense policy that millions of New Jerseyans follow each and every day, and we addressed the most pressing legislative matters,” Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin, D-Middlesex, said in a statement.

The state Capitol Joint Management Commission approved the new restrictions, which apply to visitors, legislators and staff.

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Murphy calls on lawmakers to advance ‘comprehensive’ gun safety legislation

(The Center Square) – New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy wants lawmakers to advance “comprehensive gun safety” legislation, including initiatives he proposed in April.

“Over the past four years, New Jersey has become a national leader on gun safety,” Murphy said in a news release. “We must continue to build on that progress and make our state safer for the over nine million people who call New Jersey home.”

Murphy’s proposals he announced in April included establishing record-keeping for electronic ammunition sales, raising the age to buy “long guns” to 21 years of age, and a ban on .50 caliber firearms. The governor reiterated his support for the initiatives at a Thursday event in Metuchen and proposed additional actions, including regulating school shooting drills and requiring gun manufacturers to incorporate microstamping technology into handguns sold in the state.

Separately, in October, Murphy and the governors of three other Northeastern states announced an agreement to share crime gun data, a move they say will help stem gun violence in their states.

“Essential training, better tracking of firearms and ammunition, safer storage, and stronger policy to stem the flow of out-of-state guns into New Jersey are how we keep our communities safe,” Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin, D-Middlesex, said in an announcement. “Our children deserve nothing less than to feel safe at school, and our residents to grocery shop, worship, and go about their day with peace of mind.”

When he initially announced his proposal, critics said they would run afoul of the Second Amendment and not stem the violence. New Jersey Republicans took umbrage with Murphy’s renewed call.

“Clearly, the timing is intended to further tighten gun restrictions on law-abiding residents as quickly as possible, giving opponents little to no time to be heard,” state Sen. Mike Testa, R-Vineland, said in a statement following Murphy’s announcement.

“There are dozens of bills awaiting action in both houses of the Legislature that would do more to fight crime and make New Jersey communities safer for everyone,” Testa added. “This isn’t about public safety. It’s about his ultimate goal of taking guns away from the very residents who follow our laws.”

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Analysis: New Jersey is the 16th best state for managing waste

(The Center Square) – New Jersey ranked as the 16th best state for managing waste, but it has some work to do, according to a new analysis.

The Garden State ranked No. 6 for its policies and No. 10 for recycling, a new analysis from LawnStarter revealed. The state saw “above-average performance in recycling common containers and production-related waste,” the LawnStarter editorial and research team told The Center Square.

It also recycled more hazardous waste than nearly 40 states, earning New Jersey a No. 12 ranking, despite having relatively fewer recyclers of such waste – the state ranked No. 43 on that front – which “is an impressive accomplishment,” LawnStarter said.

However, the analysis found that New Jersey has room for improvement, particularly when managing its trash. The state ranked second-to-last in waste and No. 42 for its facilities.

“Although the state has commendable recycling habits, it has the fourth-highest number of landfills in the nation and landfills much of its trash, it produces relatively more pollution, and it manages its food waste more poorly,” the LawnStarter team said. “The bottom line: Residents should continue to recycle as much as they can, and the state should more aggressively pursue other, more responsible avenues for reducing waste, such as treating production-related waste or recovering it for energy.”

Nationally, Connecticut topped the list, followed by Vermont and Minnesota. Conversely, Alaska ranked at the bottom, edging out Nevada and Montana.

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Republicans complain about a lack of transparency on New Jersey $700 million spending plan

(The Center Square) – The Joint Budget Oversight Committee signed off on $700 million in spending.

State Republicans seized the opportunity to question why Gov. Phil Murphy hasn’t unveiled a plan to spend more than $6 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money.

On Friday, Murphy announced a plan to spend $700 million on initiatives to “stimulate economic growth and improve public health.” The spending includes $435 million from the New Jersey Debt Defeasance and Prevention Fund, including $345 million for the NJ Wind Port and related infrastructure.

The state also plans to allocate another $262.6 million in money from the American Rescue Plan’s (ARP) State Fiscal Recovery Fund.

“Making strategic investments that set us up for a strong economic future and prioritize one-time, transformative projects has remained our goal in earmarking the federal relief funds,” Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin, D-Middlesex, said in a statement.

When asked at a media briefing about making such a significant spending announcement the day after Thanksgiving, the governor said his administration wasn’t trying to be cagey.

“There’s nothing either that we’re trying to hide or are ashamed of,” Murphy said during a Monday briefing. “We think these are smart investments across the board, up and down the state.”

However, Republicans blasted the proceeding, saying the Murphy administration lacks transparency and didn’t justify the spending. They also blasted Treasury Department officials for not attending the Tuesday Joint Budget Oversight Committee hearing.

“There is nothing careful, responsible or evidently fiscally sound from the looks of it,” Assemblyman Hal Wirths, R-Sussex, said in a statement. “The Murphy administration has never put forth a long-term plan for the funds, and barely provided any explanation for how the entities getting money will use it. They treat spending not as a process, but as a foregone conclusion. The administration didn’t even bother to show up to the meeting, which I’m not sure has ever happened.

“Democrats have taken a nothing-to-see-here approach to transparency throughout this process,” Wirths added. “They frankly don’t care what anyone else thinks, so they don’t provide detailed explanations to the public because, to them, the public is irrelevant and potential concerns are white noise.”

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New Jersey Republicans sue to stop state from enforcing capital entry requirements

(The Center Square) – New Jersey Republicans have taken legal action to block a requirement that visitors to the statehouse in Trenton either be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or show a recent negative COVID test.

The new restrictions apply to visitors, legislators and staff. The state Capitol Joint Management Commission approved the new requirement over the objections of Republicans.

Republicans want a New Jersey Superior Court judge to block the state from enforcing the requirement.

“We’re petitioning the Court for emergent relief to block enforcement of an exclusionary policy that we believe is unconstitutional and undemocratic,” state Sen. Steven Oroho, R-Sussex, said in a statement. “With the policy taking effect today, we felt compelled to take action to ensure continued public access to the Statehouse and the legislative process.”

Oroho is the incoming Senate Republican leader.

At a media briefing on Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy addressed a question about what the state might do if Republicans tried to bypass the vaccination mandate.

“It is a requirement to either be vaccinated, to prove that you’ve got a negative test or again, I give credit to the legislative leadership. They’ve got rapid tests at the State House,” Murphy said at a Monday briefing.

“It is 20 seconds of time, 20 seconds, 10 seconds in each nostril,” Murphy added. “It’s just ridiculous.”

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Leading New Jersey Republican wants clarity on cost of state’s Energy Master Plan

(The Center Square) – A leading New Jersey Republican wants Gov. Phil Murphy to say how much New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan (EMP) will cost taxpayers.

“J.P. Morgan is often quoted as saying ‘if you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it,’ and that is certainly the case with this sweeping energy plan that could upend the economy and devastate state residents,” state Sen. Anthony M. Bucco, R-Boonton, said in a statement.

Murphy, a Democrat, unveiled the EMP in January 2020, aiming to put the state on a track to use 100% clean energy by 2050. The governor set a target of achieving an 80% “reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,” and he recently signed Executive Order No. 274 to establish an interim target of 50% “below 2006 levels by 2030.”

However, groups have questioned the cost of the plan. Earlier this year, the Garden State Initiative (GSI) released a report that found it is unclear whether the EMP will reduce emissions or what it might cost New Jersey taxpayers.

“This plan is nothing more than a huge energy tax that will impoverish low- and middle-class families,” Bucco said. “Some estimates have found that the ‘plan’ will cost residents more than $210,000 for a family of four, that’s outrageous. Energy bills are already high – with 837,885 residents who were behind on their utility bills and owing over $600 million. Now is not the time to be increasing costs on residents.”

Murphy’s office did not respond to a request from The Center Square for more information about the plan’s cost or potential next steps.