Under a forlorn sky in the capitol city, senators gathered with a pandemic on their minds and work to do to shore up confidence in a shaken public wondering what the impact of the Coronavirus will be on their way of life, socially and, as importantly, economically.
“You know, everyone’s scared, and they should be,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney. “What we’re trying to do is show that we can function still, as a government, and do the business that is necessary to ensure that we protect the citizens the best we can in the state of New jersey. It’s very strange.”
Strange times indeed. Nary a soul stirring on the streets around the statehouse, the halls, mostly empty, as staff work from home. But inside the Assembly chamber, which provided more room for members of the upper house, bills covering the economic impact of coronavirus – many with both Democratic and Republican co-sponsors – made their way through the senate with the urgency of the moment.
“The economy in this country is going to be in very difficult shape, but the good news is that we were doing fine until this happened,” added Sweeney. “The bad news is that there gonna be restaurants that won’t reopen. There’s gonna be small businesses that won’t reopen. That is gonna be the impact, so how we help preserve as many small businesses as possible is critically important right now. You know, I saw a 98 to nothing vote in the U-S Senate last night, so, to me, there’s hope.”
The state’s benefits will include help for working families, too, like unemployment extension for temporary loss of wages, a moratorium on evictions, increased funding for food banks, extension of SNAP benefits, paid time off without having to use your sick days, the kind of government programs that usually inspire more debate from the other side.
“Yeah, under different circumstances,” noted Republic Senator Sam Thompson, “but, under these circumstances, it’s necessary.”
So, there was unanimity in the chamber for the most part (audio pop) and the bills are expected to get the governor’s signature, although a time frame has not been made official. Earlier in the day, the senate judiciary committee convened to vote on nominations to judgeships and the parole board, practicing safe distancing in front of an empty committee meeting room, made so not necessarily by public indifference, but state-imposed guidelines.
“Government needs to function, more now so than ever,” noted Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari. “Leadership is something that’s required of our leaders and we’re gonna provide that and in safe measure but we do need to ensure that all branches of government are functioning.”
But, in a glimpse of what the immediate future could look like the committee tried its hand at tele-conferencing the hearing on parole board nominees. To decidedly mixed results as the connection failed repeatedly.
The theme today is that government is still functioning – not any more or less chaotically than normal, which, in itself, should be reassuring.