Senate committee approves Murphy picks for Health, Human Services and Labor 

Three Murphy cabinet appointments were approved by the state Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. 

Nominees for the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Robert Asaro-Angelo, Department of Health, Dr. Shereef Elnahal, and Department of Human Services, Carole Johnson, all faced questions. 

The senators asked the acting commissioners about their positions on a number of hot topics and campaign promises from Gov. Phil Murphy, as well as if they would be able to advise Murphy against his campaign promises. 

The nominees were all passed unanimously and figure to be confirmed at the next Senate voting session, by the end of this month. 

Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) noted at the end of the hearing that one of the benefits of a change in administration is the change in talent, and said New Jersey is lucky to have attracted such quality talent to lead state agencies. 

Here are some of the issues the candidates discussed in their opening statements, as well as the responses they provided to Senators on key issues: 

Robert Asaro-Angelo, Department of Labor 

The $15 minimum wage: He said he was strongly in favor of an increase. During his time with the U.S. Department of Labor, Asaro-Angelo said, he worked with local governments to help implement the new minimum wage. 

“We worked very tirelessly, in fact, with local legislatures and cities and mayors and governors on getting them to raise their minimum wage when we couldn’t get it passed in Congress,” he said. “When it comes to enforcement, we are going to be properly staffed and trained properly, and working with our stakeholders in the business community.” 

Employees and unions: He said was in favor of these. Asaro-Angelo said any employee that benefits from the efforts of unions should be responsible for supporting them. 

Dr. Shereef Elnahal, Department of Health 

Out-of-network billing: Elnahal avoided supporting any of the popular arbitration options, but said other states have used many of the ones the state has explored, including arbitration, “baseball to other methods,” and benchmarking through a “suprapercentage of Medicare and FAIR Health. All items on the menu so to speak. We have not come to a consensus as an administration.” 

Medical marijuana: Elnahal said there will soon be reduced barriers for dispensaries to serve a broader range of customers. 

Opioid epidemic: Responding to a question, Elnahal said he has seen a correlation in Colorado from 2014 between decreased opiate abuse and deaths with increased uses of medical marijuana. Elnahal also said he has not heard of deaths from marijuana overuse. 

“I’m hoping (medical marijuana) can be one of the tools we use to reduce the need for opiate prescriptions,” he said.  

Hospital mergers: “Our health care delivery landscape is changing with health care mergers crossing state lines,” he said. “The department must be a vigilant partner in these transactions.” 

Carole Johnson, Department of Human Services

Johnson, currently acting commissioner of the Department of Human Services, was also approved by the committee.