A Mercer County Superior Court Judge will hold a hearing on April 27 in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Gov. Phil Murphy against Mayor Steven Fulop and other Jersey City officials because they have closed down all of the city’s daycare centers.
The city has implemented several social-distancing measures due to the coronavirus pandemic, including closing all daycare centers in a March 16 executive order signed by Mayor Fulop.
But on March 25, Murphy signed an executive order mandating that some day care centers must be allowed to operate if they certify they will provide only emergency childcare for children of essential workers.
“We are taking this step for a simple reason – we need all of our front-line workers on the job helping us to get through this emergency,” Murphy said. “A lack of childcare cannot be a barrier for them or their response. While these workers commit themselves to our New Jersey family, we will commit to protecting their families.”
The city’s authority challenged
In the legal action filed on April 13 by the state attorney general’s office, Murphy challenged the city’s authority to keep the daycare centers closed.
A temporary order, issued by Judge Robert Lougey on April 13, prevents city officials from enforcing the daycare closures until the upcoming hearing. The city reopened the centers the next day.
The state argued for temporarily preventing Jersey City from closing the daycare centers because keeping them closed would probably cause “immediate and irreparable damage” before the April 27 hearing.
Mayor Fulop opposed the governor. He said the governor’s office had been unwilling to provide information on families who need the service, but said nevertheless the daycare centers would reopen.
“We’ve said to the governor that we’ll accommodate ALL front line families that need help, but we weren’t willing to just open unlicensed daycare centers or centers with violations as that only puts residents at risk,” tweeted Fulop.
“The state is unwilling to provide any information on families that need this service, and the city has received zero requests from any residents/unions for this service,” the mayor said. “The only requests we’ve had are from daycare centers looking to receive a stipend from the state program that pays them now to be open.”
He said the city put policies in place to close businesses and daycare centers “well before Governor Murphy implemented any regulations for the state, so this request at this time would entail a burden of inspections to open that contradict his previous statements of safety concerns.”
He said the city had reopened daycare centers as of April 14 to “not create a distraction from our work” but said that the safety concerns were documented now.
The suit also names Jersey City Municipal Prosecutor Jake Hudnut, Health and Human Services Director Stacey Flanagan, and the City of Jersey City as defendants.
As of April 16, the pandemic has infected 3,194 Jersey City residents.