Home > Uncategorized > Murphy Administration Uses Emergency Health Law To Block Public And Media Access To Public Records On COVID Preparation And Response

Murphy Administration Uses Emergency Health Law To Block Public And Media Access To Public Records On COVID Preparation And Response

Gov. Claims Lack of “Manpower” to provide documents

Yet DEP has sufficient “manpower” to seek collection of $2.07 bill

Over 2 months ago, I cited a 2005 law known as the Emergency Health Powers Act (EHPA), and blasted the Murphy Administration’s failure to implement that law to prepare for and respond to the COVID pandemic:

NJ State officials have independent State legal authority and responsibility to plan for, respond to and otherwise manage pandemics that has gotten little if any scrutiny.

The NJ Emergency Health Powers Act (EHPA), signed into law September 14, 2005 (P.L. 2005, c.222), grants certain powers to state and local public health authorities to ensure effective planning and response to public health emergencies.

Since then, I’ve been extremely frustrated by the NJ media’s failure to use that law (and NJ’s pandemic and emergency response plans) to investigate the State’s performance and hold the Murphy Administration accountable.

But I now suspect that that post may have educated the NJ Press corps, because today the NJ media reports that the Murphy administration is using that law to block press and public access to public documents regarding the COVID crisis.

in an unexpected development, some government agencies in Murphy’s administration have also cited the law [EHPA] to reject requests from media outlets seeking public records related to how the state has responded to an outbreak that has killed more than 10,000 residents and caused widespread unemployment.

That is an incredible abuse that amounts to a blanket blackout on critical information regarding the COVID pandemic and how the NJ State government planned, prepared for, and performed in responding to the crisis. 

[Note: I’ll pledge $100 to any reader who can find any media report on the EHPA before my 3/17/20 post on it. Lacking that, I’ll take credit for breaking the story. Of course, NJ press corps would never admit that or recognize the contribution of a “dirty hippie blogger”.]

The Governor and legislators claim that lack of “manpower” is why they must impose blanket secrecy. The media quote Gov. Murphy himself:

We just have to deal with the reality of manpower, the ability to turn things around. … There’s no thematic association with that other than we’re at war with a virus.”

That is a sham excuse.

After I wrote that critical March 17 post about EHPA and NJ pandemic and emergency plans, the DEP had enough OPRA “manpower” to write to notify me that I was “delinquent” and to restrict my OPRA privilege for failure to pay a prior charge of $2.07. 

I can only suspect that the DEP’s unprecedented delinquency notice was retaliatory and designed to prevent my use of OPRA to document DEP failures.

Here is the DEP email (as written, with obvious fact errors):

On April 29, 2020 at 3:17 PM “Ortiz, Alex” <Alex.Ortiz@dep.nj.gov> wrote:

Good Afternoon Mr. Wolfe,

The intent of this email is to address your delinquency in make restitution of your copy service invoice issued on May 10, 2019in the amount of $2.07.

On May 10, 2019, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Office of Record Access received OPRA request #249792.  The Department responded to your request on May 21, 2019.  You requested copies on May 21, 2018.  The Department acquired the responsive records and provided you a Printing Agreement Authorization request, which was received back signed by you on May 21, 2019.  The copying job was completed entailing 1 CD.

Regardless if your records needs changed since you submitted the OPRA request and requested copies, you authorized the copying job agreeing to pay the exact amount of the copies.  Please send payment against the attached invoice.

Failure to make payment may result in the requirement of a deposit payment prior to making any copies on future requests, which will delay the production of copies.  Attached is the billing summary with the VCL ID# (Invoice#).  You can either pay online https://www.nj.gov/dep/online/or you can schedule a pickup and provide the payment up front.


Alex Ortiz

Agency Services Representative 2


End Note: For many years, I’ve urged NJ journalists to write stories about how DEP and State official were stonewalling them or denying OPRA requests, especially on the basis of “deliberative privilege”.

As far as I can recall, today’s story about Murphy Administration’s denial of OPRA’s is the first that has ever focused exclusively on the many OPRA abuses.

I’ve also repeatedly reached out to Senator Weinberg to request that she amend her OPRA reform bill to restrict DEP abuses of the bi-partisan “deliberative privilege” loophole.

So, I get totally disgusted by news coverage that presents these as novel issues, and provides Senator Weinberg with cover and praise for her longstanding failure to act.

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