It was a pronounced display of bipartisanship. Democratic Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and the Republican Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, standing side by side as they addressed the press before Monday’s committee meetings and Assembly session. On the agenda: a package of bills aimed at blunting the economic effects of the growing COVID-19 crisis.
“We are creating a number of funds to help independent contractors who will be out of work,” said Coughlin. “We’re putting money in place for them to be able to get to it. We’re putting money in place so that schools – both public, private and parochial schools can do cleaning over the spring the spring break and the time to come, so there are specific amounts for that.”
Other bills include measures to expand small business loan programs, create temporary unemployment benefits for those who miss work, exempting those who need to miss work because of the virus from having to use sick days, lets local and state governments to hold sessions remotely, extends deadlines for tax filings, local budgets, vote by mail and more.
“We have tried to address things in every segment of the population that is going to be affected,” added the speaker.
“This is a national crisis meaning that New Jersey may have to fend for ourselves,” said Bramnick. “We can’t rely on other states to send in resources and that was really possible in prior circumstances. That’s why it’s important that government take this very seriously. We don’t know the ultimate outcome with respect to this virus but we have to be prepared because most states are going to have to stand alone.”
The package of bills moved through a meeting of the Assembly Homeland Security Committee, where members kept their distance from one another, and voted in favor of the measures. Next step: the Senate, which is scheduled – tentatively – to consider the bills during their session next Monday.
Meanwhile, the tone around the State House Monday was quiet with lots of staff working from home and lawmakers trying to figure out how to conduct business as usual in these most unusual of times.