Friday, July 31, 2020
New Jersey State Senators Anthony M. Bucco, Kristin Corrado, and Joe Pennacchio said the Murphy Administration’s massive failures in protecting nursing homes, processing unemployment claims, and reopening Motor Vehicle Commission agencies must be investigated by the Legislature to ensure that fixes can be implemented as quickly as possible.
“It’s clear to everyone in New Jersey that the Murphy Administration has failed to properly protect nursing home residents, help unemployed workers, or plan for the MVC’s reopening,” said Bucco (R-25). “What’s not clear, however, is why the governor didn’t listen to the warnings raised by so many people or why he continues to refuse to enact the common-sense solutions we’ve proposed. It’s also not clear why Senate Democrats continue to delay the bipartisan investigation we were promised to help guide our efforts to fix lingering problems and prevent a recurrence of these critical failures.”
Nearly 7,000 residents and staff of long-term care facilities, including nursing and veterans homes, died from COVID-19 after the Murphy Administration issued directives that may have prevented their ability to keep infected patients from being admitted.
“It’s possible that half of New Jersey’s COVID-19 deaths can be attributed to irresponsible directives from the Department of Health that led to major outbreaks,” said Pennacchio (R-26). “The families of those who died deserve to know what went wrong, and surviving residents deserve to know that they’re safe. The legislative investigation we’ve proposed would help us to make those determinations and to put a spotlight on any outstanding issues that must be addressed.”
Corrado also pointed to the continuing failure by the New Jersey Department of Labor to process tens of thousands of outstanding unemployment claims.
“By the governor’s own admission, nearly 50,000 out-of-work New Jerseyans still haven’t gotten the unemployment benefits they’re owed after months of trying,” said Corrado (R-40). “It’s beyond outrageous. I have constituents that I’ve been trying to help since March who keep hitting a brick wall with the Department of Labor. Trying to get anything resolved with Unemployment is the most frustrating experience I’ve ever had as a legislator, I can’t even imagine how bad it is for those who are desperate to have their claims approved. People deserve to know why the unemployment system continues to fail them and what the Legislature is doing to hold the Murphy Administration accountable.”
Additionally, Bucco said it was important to understand why the Murphy Administration failed to acknowledge or act upon repeated warnings about the Motor Vehicle Commission months before the agency’s chaotic reopening.
“All of the chaos, the long lines, and the frustration that drivers are feeling is completely unnecessary,” said Bucco (R-25). “The MVC and the governor were warned back in May, two months before agencies reopened, that they needed a solid plan in place. They never responded to my direct outreach or implemented the recommendations that were provided by legislators. Nearly a month after agencies reopened, people are still lining up overnight just for a chance to get in the door. We need to understand why the administration didn’t listen and to ensure that every step possible is being taken to fix the MVC permanently.”
They called on the Senate President to follow-through on his promise from May to form the “Senate Review and Recovery Committee” to investigate these and other matters related to the State’s flawed response to COVID-19.
“We fully supported Senate President Sweeney when he announced the bipartisan committee we had called for to investigate and improve upon New Jersey’s response to COVID-19,” added Corrado. “Two months later, however, we’re still waiting for him to take any steps beyond a single press release.”
An effort by Republicans to move a legislative investigation forward was blocked during a Senate session yesterday by Senate Democrats.
“Our original concerns with nursing homes, unemployment, and the MVC that prompted our calls for a legislative investigation remain,” Pennacchio concluded. “I’m disappointed that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle seem more concerned with protecting Governor Murphy than protecting the people of New Jersey. Let’s form this committee, give it subpoena power, and let it shine some light on what the Murphy Administration needs to fix to help New Jersey get through and beyond this crisis.”
Frustrated by the Governor’s refusal to loosen restrictions on restaurants for indoor dining, New Jersey state Senator Joe Pennacchio has proposed legislative action to address the stalemate that is suffocating the state economy.
Pennacchio implored the Senate to adopt an amendment to S-766 to allow restaurants to follow appropriate precautions and open their doors to indoor customers immediately.
The Democrat majority instantly moved to block the effort, and as a result, restaurants remain off-limits indefinitely, subject to the Governor’s impulse.
“Arbitrary rules are destroying an entire industry. This was an opportunity for the Legislature to become directly involved in pandemic public policy but the Democrats passed,” said a disappointed Senator Pennacchio. “They chose politics over the best interests of New Jersey’s crucial hospitality industry and the hundreds of thousands of residents who depend on it for their livelihoods.
“I appreciate my Republican colleagues who backed the amendment, but it was disappointing we didn’t have bipartisan support and the measure was voted down. This is something our state desperately needs right now,” Pennacchio said.
The floor amendments proposed by Pennacchio would permit indoor dining as long as establishments followed basic health precautions, including a 25 percent seating capacity, maintaining recommended social distancing guidelines, and restrictions on customers tested with a fever of 100.3 or higher.
“We would require common sense,” said Pennacchio. “Social distancing, wear a mask when you enter the establishment, monitor temperatures before patrons are seated, no congregating around the bar. These are workable solutions that would enable the state to move into the next critical phase of economic recovery.
“Every weekend that passes without indoor dining, the number of established, successful restaurants in danger of going out of business forever increases. This can’t go on.”
Long lines and unsafe traffic conditions at recently reopened NJ Motor Vehicle Commission locations has been a burden on local police departments, and State Senator Anthony M. Bucco wants to ensure the state picks up the tab for the increased expenses.
“It’s the right thing to do. The MVC is responsible to cover the costs for these issues,” said Bucco (R-25). “It’s their job to ensure things run smoothly, and when they drop the ball like they have done with the reopening of facilities, they can’t expect cash-strapped municipalities to take the hit.”
Bucco introduced legislation (S-2762) requiring the state to reimburse towns for costs incurred as a result of the long lines at MVC locations.
“The re-openings were botched,” said Bucco. “After closing their doors when Governor Murphy locked down the state, MVC was clearly unprepared and overwhelmed for what would happen when they opened again. Police were called in to ensure traffic safety and control the large crowds. This came at a significant cost to police departments and municipalities. The impact on Randolph in my district has been severe, and it’s the same across the state. Local taxpayers should not be forced to shoulder that burden and residents shouldn’t have to sacrifice police protection in their neighborhoods.”
The Senator’s bill would appropriate $500,000 in federal CARES Act money to establish a fund to pay back local governments for expenses incurred by local police departments for the management and control of crowds and traffic at New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission locations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“All of this should have been avoided,” said Bucco. “Weeks before MVC reopened the doors, I urged the commissioner to implement plans to handle an enormous backlog of paperwork and customers. My emails went unanswered and we all witnessed the results. MVC’s mistakes created the problems this bill addresses.”
Bucco’s legislation would be retroactive to March 9, 2020, when Murphy issued Executive Order No. 103 declaring a public health emergency and state of emergency.
Thursday, July 30, 2020
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
How did Cherry Hill become the veritable capital of South Jersey?
Well, over the course of five decades it grew at such an accelerated pace that its emergence, as breathtaking as it was, seemed almost inevitable. But it wasn't just an accident or coincidence. Critical factors propelled it to its rapid and undisputed prominence. And, if you step back, you will find five keys to its phenomenal success:
1) Location, location, location.
That familiar real estate adage holds true once again. Cherry Hill's strategic location in the shadow of Philadelphia and at the convergence of four major highways (Routes 38, 70, 295 and the NJ Turnpike) makes it a natural hot spot. Its compact 24 square miles place it just about eight miles from center city Philadelphia. This proximity has attracted more than 70,000 residents but the town still has a remarkably low population density.
2) The name itself.
Changing the town's name to "Cherry Hill" in 1961 acted as a magic wand. There was no significant hill of note and cherries were nowhere in evidence, but it didn't matter. The name was easily recognizable and conjured up visions of a gracious, luxury inn and one of the nation's first indoor shopping malls. People wanted a Cherry Hill address and the town soon became nationally known.
3) The schools.
From the start, Cherry Hill gained a reputation for a top-notch education system and great schools. The schools were new and up-to-the-minute and the town attracted the best teachers and administrators. People moved to Cherry Hill for the schools and felt the fine school system added to the value of their homes. The residents supported education excellence and approved expansion of the school system to maintain this important selling point.
4) The civic associations.
From the start, a network of neighborhood civic associations brought the town a sense of awareness and civic pride that helped it navigate through tumultuous periods of growth. These very active associations produced a wide assortment of neighborhood-centered activists, some of who became government leaders themselves while others remained vital watchdogs and gadflies. In the process, Cherry Hill's patchwork quilt of housing development became real neighborhoods that built a sense of community.
5) A welcoming spirit.
When nearly everyone is new there are few preconceptions and an open-door spirit more readily takes hold. Consequently, unlike more settled nearby suburban towns, Cherry Hill was remarkably welcoming to newcomers from the get-go. And its emergence dovetailed with the enactment of state and federal legislation that prohibited housing discrimination in any event. Today, Cherry Hill is one of South Jersey's most diverse communities providing housing for nearly every income level and serving as home to an increasingly multi-racial, multi-cultural citizenry.
Cherry Hill has long since lost its luster of newness and the name may not convey the magic it once did. The Cherry Hill Inn is gone and indoor shopping malls are facing a challenging environment. Also, globalization and social media may have actually diluted home rule and a sense of neighborhood identity. Beyond all that, honest civic engagement and a spirit of healthy dissent are harder to come by amidst entrenched one-party rule.
But the town's premiere assets are still intact: an aware, intelligent citizenry; an ideal location; good schools; a largely accepting, welcoming spirit and a nice balance of housing, commerce and open space with every convenience imaginable. These are advantages to treasure and nurture!
Tuesday, July 28, 2020
School families at Philadelphia Parish and Regional Elementary Schools and Archdiocesan High Schools previously received detailed plans for the safe reopening of school in the fall. Those plans are outlined in digest format below.
Senior administrators from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Office of Catholic Education have worked in conjunction with various partners over the past several months to develop plans for the safe re-opening of school on time in September. This critical work was accomplished through dedicated task forces focused on the unique educational, emotional, spiritual, and physical needs of students and school families in elementary and secondary schools as well as schools of special education throughout the five-county region.
Maintaining the health and safety of students, faculty, administrators, and staff while providing a continued high-quality Catholic education were the principles guiding this work. As such, the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and the Pennsylvania Department of Education were central to Archdiocesan planning for the coming academic year.
The plans that were ultimately developed have a strong structural framework that seeks to provide the maximum educational experience for students. Key differences among the plans allow for best practices of meeting the needs of students who represent a broad range of physical, emotional, and intellectual growth within the Pre-K-12 spectrum.
In addition, flexibility is a hallmark of the reopening plan with two factors in mind. First, the Archdiocese recognizes that students and families in its school communities may face a host of health concerns as well as general anxiety regarding the potential for the spread of COVID-19. As such, virtual and other distance learning options are available at most schools for any family that feels uncomfortable sending their children to school for in-person instruction. Second, the Archdiocese has recognized the essential need to be nimble in the face of the ever-evolving pandemic landscape. Developments will be constantly evaluated and plans adjusted accordingly. We have the capacity and are prepared to provide a virtual learning environment to the greatest extent possible if necessary.
Parish and Regional Elementary Schools
The parish and regional elementary schools plan Catholic Schools Onward: Best Practices and New Opportunities as We Move Forward outlines the foundational premises that the plan is built upon. Andrew M. McLaughlin, Ed.D., Secretary for Elementary Education for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia shared in a recent letter to school families, “The plan is based on several key principles, cohorting – students remain with the same classmates throughout the day, social distancing, strategic use of masks, enhanced cleaning, a modified attendance policy, situational virtual learning, and an enhanced partnership with parents.” The full plan for parish and regional elementary schools can be found here.
Archdiocesan High Schools
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia high schools’ document Catholic High Schools Compass: Continuing Excellence in Catholic Education provides detailed information on their plan. In a join introduction letter accompanying the plan, Sister Maureen Lawrence McDermott, I.H.M. Ph.D., Superintendent for Secondary Schools for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Irene Horstmann Hannan, Chief Executive Officer of Father in the Future Foundation said, “The document outlines the key components of our plan….like the four points of a compass, [the plan] is firmly grounded in directional principles: safety, academic excellence, technology, and faith formation.” The full plan can be found here.
Outlined below are some of the key highlights of the plans developed for the respective divisions with the Office of Catholic Education. It is important to note that differences allow for the distinct educational and physical needs of the various student groups based on best practices.
Parish and Regional Elementary Schools:
- In-person Instruction Model: This model has a greater impact at the elementary level as it allows time for students to develop spiritually, socially, emotionally, physically, and academically based on their levels of growth and maturity.
- Learning Management System (LMS): When a physical presence in the classroom is not possible, a LMS will be provided to centralize materials, lessons, instruction, assessments, feedback, and communication.
- Social Distancing: As it relates to the classroom set-up; desks should be placed the appropriate distance from the center of each desk to the center of the next desk.
- Home-Based Temperature Screening: Parents/Guardians to take temperatures and assess for COVID-19 symptoms of child before they leave home.
Archdiocesan High Schools:
- Hybrid Instruction Model: Reduced class sizes using a hybrid A/B instruction plan that allows for half of the total number of students to be physically present each day.
- Learning Management System (LMS) Utilizing Schoology: This learning platform complete with Zoom capacity allows for seamless integration with platforms already in use. Cameras will be in classrooms so that students receiving instruction may do so in real-time and for a full day.
- Social Distancing: As it relates to the classroom desks will be spaced at the appropriate distance. Social distancing will also be observed at lunch, in hallways, and all other aspects of the school environment.
- Temperature Screening at Home and School: Students should screen themselves for symptoms and temperatures before leaving for school each day.
Archdiocesan Schools of Special Education:
- Learning Model: Five days per week in person instruction. Students will remain within their specific cohort; each group of students stay together for in person instruction and for lunch. Teachers rotate in and out of the rooms rather than the students. Art, gym, and music teachers will use this routine.
- PPE: Sneeze guards will be set up on each student's desk, face masks/face shields will be worn in shared areas of the building. Classrooms will be equipped with a no touch thermometer, hand sanitizers, disinfecting wipes, face masks, face shields, and gloves.
- Social Distancing: Students will not share materials or food. Water fountains will no longer be available.Students will remain in classrooms most of their day as a cohort. Students will travel only with their cohort and utilize other areas of the school such as bathrooms, computer labs, and gymnasium.
- Temperature Checks: Parents take temperature before the student leaves home. Thermometers will be available within the classrooms.
The Office of Catholic Education is steadfast in their promise to keep school families informed and to remain in dialogue with them. A dedicated point of contact where parents and guardians can share questions is available. Messages can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org .
There is also an established point of contact for families seeking spiritual support. Messages can be sent to email@example.com . In the coming weeks additional information will be made available through the website aopcatholicschools.org/covid-19-information/ .
Senator Michael Testa, Assemblyman Erik Simonsen, and Assemblyman Antwan McClellan slammed Governor Phil Murphy for excluding public health experts who work within his administration and for the State from discussions and decisions regarding New Jersey’s reopening procedures.
“It’s shocking that Gov. Murphy has left his administration’s public health experts – who should be advising him – in the dark, only for them to discover new policy actions when they tune into the governor’s press conferences,” said Testa (R-1). “Murphy’s unilateral reign, which is tanking New Jersey businesses and livelihoods, is not grounded in science or data. His decisions are solely dependent on which way certain political winds are blowing, or whatever Governor Cuomo opts to do first. For the health and well-being of New Jersey families, I urge the governor to consult with his own advisors prior to making major policy decisions.”
According to recent reports, Governor Murphy failed to communicate with three of his top public health experts prior to formulating key policy-making decisions. This includes the abrupt reversal of his decision to reopen indoor dining, the outdoor mask mandate, and school reopening plans.
“Our families and businesses are left to scratch their heads in frustration, as the Governor preaches science and practices politics,” Assemblyman Antwan McClellan said. “The disturbing reports of the Governor making arbitrary and capricious decisions based on political whims (and then demanding scientific back up from his Health Department) shakes the confidence of our constituents at a time when trust and clear direction are so important. This a clear failure of leadership at a crucial time.”
“Each day, our small business owners hang on the words of Governor Murphy, as he decides who will get a change at financial survival, in his personal COVID reopening sweepstakes,” Assemblyman Erik Simonsen said. “The turmoil reported within the State Health Department is further proof that the Governor’s Executive authority, now in its fifth month, is driven by politics and power. How will make the ‘science’ fit his leftist narrative, as more and more small businesses are forced to close their doors forever.”
Testa said these arbitrary and capricious decisions have caused unnecessary additional harm to businesses that are already suffering, including to restaurants that spent money after Murphy said they could resume indoor dining on July 2nd, only to have the governor reverse his decision inexplicably at the last minute.
To help account for those losses, Testa is the co-sponsor of legislation (S-2704) which would dedicate $30 million of federal funds to reimburse restaurants, bars, and caterers that wasted money on supplies in preparation for the return of indoor dining on July 2nd, which the governor blocked.
“The broad restrictions that Gov. Murphy has placed on indoor dining makes little sense when hospitalization for COVID cases have dropped 90% since April,” added Testa. ”His ill-conceived reversal may lead some mom-and-pop restaurants on Main Streets across New Jersey to close their doors forever. Gov. Murphy must start working with members of his team, as well as members of the New Jersey Legislature, to help get our State safely back on track.”
Monday, July 27, 2020