The following editorial by Senator Joe Pennacchio (R-26) calling for a bipartisan select committee with subpoena power to probe Gov. Phil Murphy’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in New Jersey was published by NJ.com on April 20, 2021:
For nearly a year, Republicans in the New Jersey Legislature have called for bipartisan legislative oversight of the Murphy administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following independent hearings and explosive revelations by the media, Sen. Joe Pennacchio said a bipartisan select committee with subpoena power must be formed to probe Gov. Phil Murphy’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in New Jersey. (NJ Senate Republicans/Facebook)
We pushed our Democratic colleagues to join us, and when they continued to resist after 10 months of trying, we moved forward with independent hearings on our own.
As a result of our efforts and explosive revelations by the media, we’re more certain than ever that a bipartisan select committee with subpoena power must be formed.
It’s the only way we’ll get the answers we need to understand what went wrong and ensure tragic mistakes aren’t repeated.
Unfortunately, Trenton Democrats, who chomped at the bit to investigate matters of lesser importance in recent years, are suddenly frozen in inaction. It’s inexplicable.
Early in the pandemic, there were private discussions on both sides of the aisle that Governor Phil Murphy was incapable of responsibly managing the vast emergency powers that our state’s laws grant to the chief executive and his cabinet.
By May, more than 5,000 seniors had died as a result of his administration’s directives forcing nursing homes to accept coronavirus patients from hospitals despite their concerns.
Thousands of small businesses, suffocated by overbearing executive orders, had closed their doors forever with no financial lifeline or reopening plan forthcoming from the governor.
And more than 800,000 out-of-work New Jerseyans were confronted with a broken website, jammed phone lines, and locked doors at walk-in unemployment offices when they tried to access the unemployment insurance benefits they needed to survive.
It seemed apparent that significant legislative oversight was needed to understand what the Murphy administration did wrong so we could set New Jersey on the right path.
On May 11, 2020, I announced a resolution to form a bipartisan investigative committee, and Senate Democrats – after a little prodding — seemed ready to work with us.
Less than two weeks later, the Senate President, a Democrat, issued a joint statement with Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean announcing the planned creation of a bipartisan “Review and Recovery Committee” to address our mutual concerns.
It seemed, for a moment, that we were all on the same page. We started discussing the committee’s membership and the scope of its work.
When we pushed for a timeline, we were told there were concerns in the Democrats’ caucus that needed to be worked out, but not to worry. Days went by without answers or action, and then weeks.
We continued pushing our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to move the process forward, but it was clear something had changed.
Far-left Democrats were refusing to allow Governor Murphy, a fellow progressive, to be held accountable for the unnecessary harm he had caused.
More importantly, their stonewalling was preventing efforts to understand what kinds of internal safeguards or systemic changes could make a difference.
Over the ensuing months, we gained important hints at the magnitude of the problem through the diligent work of reporters who fought to pierce the Murphy administration’s veil of secrecy.
Their efforts were made more difficult by the administration’s abuse of public health emergency laws to block the release of important documents and records.
Still, we learned that health care workers in State-run veterans homes were threatened with punishment for wearing gloves and masks without permission, ultimately leading to outbreaks that took nearly 200 lives.
We know the Governor’s Office was directly involved in developing penalties for “mask insubordination,” but we still don’t know why because documents were redacted or never released following public record requests.
We also read about secret recordings made when nursing homes were ordered to admit COVID-19 patients from hospitals and prohibited from testing to see if those patients were still infected.
As NJ.com reported, nursing home administrators warned Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli and other Murphy administration officials on a call last March that the directive would lead to tragedy.
One administrator warned that segregating sick residents wouldn’t work, while another said bluntly, “Patients will die.”
Sadly, none of Governor Murphy’s people listened to the warnings that could have prevented many of the estimated 10,000 nursing home deaths that occurred in subsequent outbreaks.
We need to know why the Murphy Administration blindly followed New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s lead in issuing and implementing the disastrous nursing home order over extremely vocal concerns.
With questions growing and continued inaction from the Democratic majorities in the Legislature, Senate and Assembly Republicans held a series of independent hearings last month to see what we could learn.
We invited key officials in the Murphy administration to testify and extended Democratic legislators the opportunity to participate. All declined.
In the three hearings, we heard from victims’ families, unemployed workers, and struggling business owners, along with subject-matter experts.
Many expressed their outrage and disappointment that Democrats refused to participate in the oversight process at any level.
The Murphy administration called it a partisan effort in the press, but it was only partisan because the other side refused to show up – for nearly a year.
While we learned much, we couldn’t ask some of the most important questions of the decision-makers in the Murphy administration who refused to appear.
Their absence, perhaps unintentionally, demonstrated exactly why a select committee is still needed.
Without subpoena power to compel Governor Murphy’s team to show up and testify under oath about their flawed pandemic response, New Jerseyans will never get the honest answers or solutions they deserve.