TRENTON, NJ — Labeling Gov. Phil Murphy’s strategy to reopen New Jersey “arbitrary and inconsistent,” the Senate Republican caucus is calling for immediate action that provides more clarity and relief for residents and businesses.
“As the threat of COVID-19 continues to recede quickly for the general public, it is imperative that we make smart and fair decisions to end the hardships that continue to impact many New Jerseyans. We are concerned that many of the broad restrictions that remain on various activities and business operations as a result of the executive orders you issued at the start of the COVID-19 crisis seem to make little sense today,” wrote the minority GOP caucus in a May 27 letter to Murphy.
Below are excerpts from the letter signed by its 15 members, including Deputy Leader Robert Singer, who represents the 30th District, which includes Belmar and Lake Como.
“We have heard repeatedly from our constituents that the manner in which reopenings have been announced appears to be arbitrary and inconsistent, with no clear communication regarding the metrics or benchmarks that must be met for executive orders to be loosened or lifted.
“Other states, including New York, Pennsylvania and Florida, have issued guidance that pegs data against clear benchmarks to demonstrate that public health interests are served by their states’ policies related to the coronavirus. The people of New Jersey deserve no less.
“We urge you to offer clarity about the milestones that must be reached for small shops you have deemed “nonessential” to reopen their doors to customers, for restaurants to serve diners, and for congregations to meet again in houses of worship. Many of those places are ready today to operate safely through the same precautionary measures that we trust to protect us when we visit a supermarket or other “essential retail” business.
“In the absence of specific benchmarks for reopening from your administration, we urge you to review the many thoughtful reopening plans that have been submitted to you by counties, trade groups, and chambers of commerce. If those plans meet CDC guidelines, you should authorize them to be enacted immediately.
“We are confident that businesses and nonprofits across New Jersey are ready to reopen safely. Still, they will need your help. Without immediate action from your administration to advance or approve their reopening plans, many will not survive, and what should have been short temporary closures will become permanent.
“We are especially concerned that very little has been done to support the thousands of small businesses on Main Streets across New Jersey. We have heard from thousands of employers that they will need direct financial support to remain viable after suffering steep losses resulting from the extended shutdown. At this point in time, only 4 percent of the billions in federal CARES Act stimulus funding received by New Jersey has been dedicated for this purpose. We implore you to increase this allocation.
“In some instances, towns will need to know that the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control will be flexible in how liquor licenses may be utilized. In other instances, they may look to close roadways temporarily to create pedestrian safe walkways, allowing additional retail and dining establishments to move outside to operate safely. This may require approval from the Department of Transportation. Given the unprecedented circumstances, we encourage you to direct your departments to be as flexible as possible in the consideration of these requests.
“Finally, we urge you to level the playing field by eliminating the arbitrary limitation of gatherings to 10 people in certain indoor locations. We note that limit does not apply to “essential retail” locations that have been permitted to operate safely at half capacity, which may be hundreds of people. If social distancing and other reasonable precautions can be maintained at any location, the 10-person limitation should be lifted. That includes at our indispensable churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues, which are as important now as ever. Risk is mitigated in each of those places by the precautionary measures that the facilities and their visitors take, not by a government designation as ‘essential.’
"Given the benefit of time and what we have learned, we believe it makes sense to let New Jerseyans resume their lives without the continuation of arbitrary restrictions that do little today to keep them safe. If you believe public health data does not warrant that level of freedom, we encourage you to clearly explain why and to tell us, specifically, what must change. The people of New Jersey deserve to know.