A group of Ocean County legislators have withdrawn a bill that would have imposed fines of up to $15,000 for illegally hosting public gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic crisis.
The bill was proposed March 31, at the height of the pandemic’s growth, and just as tensions over a number of high-profile large gatherings in Lakewood were garnering headlines and a demand for government to more strictly enforce social distancing guidelines. Now, with beaches and boardwalks reopening, along with the easing of some restrictions on businesses, northern Ocean County’s legislative delegation has withdrawn the bill.
A joint statement issued Monday by state Sen. Robert Holzapfel and Assemblymen Greg McGuckin and John Catalano said the withdrawal was prompted because “enforcement was stepped up and the types of gatherings where COVID-19 could be spread were greatly limited.”
“We introduced our legislation at the start of the crisis due to a lack of leadership from Governor Murphy when it came to enforcement as evidenced by number or coronavirus parties and similar events that threatened to prolong the public health emergency unnecessarily,” the statement said. “As legislators, we cannot control how the the law is enforced by the governor or the agencies he directs, but we can change the law to encourage people to act responsibly through the deterrent effect of higher penalties.”
The bill would have established a monetary penalty of $10,000 to $15,000 for any person who willfully or knowingly hosted gatherings in violation of any provision of the state’s Emergency Health Powers Act. Gatherings of all kinds including weddings, parties, and social events have been prohibited by the Governor since March 21 when he issued an executive order to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The delegation praised efforts to step up enforcement of social distancing guidelines and said the stiff penalties were no longer required.
“Because of this, all of the key metrics on infection rates, hospitalizations, and fatalities due to the coronavirus have declined quickly, which has led to the easing of lockdown measures,” the statement went on to say. “We are glad to say that our legislation is no longer necessary and will be withdrawn.”
The delegation now says its priority is to “fully” reopen the Jersey Shore as quickly as possible.
“We are glad that life is starting to resume and businesses are starting to reopen, but we won’t be happy until everything is back to normal,” they said.