Murphy defends outdoor dining record — but won’t say if he’ll sign or veto latest bill

Gov. Phil Murphy gave no indication Wednesday on whether he would sign or veto a second bill that would expand or change outdoor requirement rules for restaurants and bars.

The Senate and Assembly passed the bill unanimously — as they did on a first bill, which Murphy vetoed.

State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) said the bill cuts through costs and red tape to an industry that has been hammered by COVID-19. The bill would allow restaurants, bars, breweries and distilleries to extend their footprints.

Murphy, speaking at his COVID-19 briefing Wednesday, said there is confusion about what the bills do and don’t do — and that his administration is soundly behind restaurant and bar owners.

“The headlines on this — ‘We vetoed outdoor dining’ —that’s the last thing from the truth,” Murphy said. “I think if you look at our dining reality, both indoors and outdoors, we have been as consistent as any state in America.”

Murphy said look at the record.

“We encouraged outdoor dining, it started June 15, as aggressively as any American state — working with municipalities, working with the ABC, carry-out liquor,” he said. “So, with all due respect to the way the press has reported this, we’ve been on the right side of this one.

“Having said that, you can’t take away authority from municipalities. You can’t take ABC’s authority away. Some folks would like to say that bill that we vetoed didn’t do that, but it did. I hate to break the news. The good news is this: We’re in very constructive discussions and I’m optimistic we’ll end up in a good place.”

Other notes from his briefing Wednesday:

Health metrics

Murphy announced the state has now administered 264,681 vaccinations — and he announced a plan to “exponentially” increase that.

The state also reported 6,922 more positive tests (PCR) with 1,265 more presumed positive (antigen rapid tests). This increased the cumulative positive test total over 600,000. It now stands at 602,630 (543,974 PCR and 58,656 antigen).

There were 95 more confirmed fatalities, bringing that total to 18,070 (plus more than 2,000 presumed fatalities).

Other metrics:

  • Positivity rate:53% (on 25,913 PCR tests Jan. 9);
  • Rate of transmission:10;
  • In hospital: 3,726;
  • In intensive care: 648;
  • On ventilators: 452;
  • Discharged/admitted: 438/460.

Digital divide

The number of students who are lacking either the equipment or internet accessibility for online learning decreased by 1,100 last week, Murphy said. He said this decrease is largely attributable to the entirety of East Orange’s order for devices being fulfilled.

Murphy said what initially started at 231,000 students is down to 7,700 students.

“We are at about 97% complete in closing the digital divide,” Murphy said. “And we are not going to stop working until we hit zero.”

Murphy said a sizeable portion of the outstanding gap remains in Lakewood, but officials there have received confirmation that their delivery is finally on track for this week.


Friday is the last day for Commissioner of Environmental Protection Catherine McCabe, who will retire.

Shawn LaTourette — deputy commissioner and chief of staff —will take over as acting commissioner Jan. 16.

“Shawn has been an integral part of every major decision we have made over the past three years — from clean energy to environmental justice, and everything in-between — and I know he will ably lead the Department going forward,” Murphy said.

Final word

Murphy on New Jersey eclipsing the 20,000-fatality mark from COVID-19 — which is more than 25 times the number of Jerseyans lost on 9/11.

“For anyone left who still denies that this is real, I don’t think there’s anything else we can say to try to convince you of reality.”