TRENTON, N.J. (CBS) — New Jersey’s top health official ordered the shutdown of a Bellmawr gym that has defied COVID-19 emergency measures. But the owners of Atilis Gym say they won’t let that stop them.
They closed the gym Wednesday due to a plumbing problem. The Department of Health hung signs on the gym overnight and the gym remained closed Thursday.
However, the owners say they will reopen Friday morning and face the consequences.
Just this week, in-person car sales resumed, as well as curbside pickup, but some say the decisions that Gov. Phil Murphy is making are unconstitutional, unfair and they’re willing to take him to court.
“And so I’m sorry if folks don’t like the definitions,” Murphy said.
With his executive orders lasting more than two months, Murphy is being challenged by defiant business owners, pastors and fellow politicians.
On Thursday, the New Jersey GOP announced a lawsuit on behalf of small businesses, saying the governor is denying them their rights by arbitrarily classifying some as essential and others nonessential.
“I’ve got nothing to add on a suit. We make the decision about what’s essential and nonessential based on data, science, facts, health,” Murphy said.
State police say, by and large, there has been a high rate of compliance with the executive orders.
But as the legal battles start brewing, Rutgers law professor Bob Williams says, New Jersey’s governor has firm standing to use executive authority, thanks to the state constitution.
Lawmakers have repeatedly reaffirmed that power, even as recently as the 2005 Emergency Health Powers Act, which they passed in response to Hurricane Katrina.
“It delegates wide authority to the governor to act quickly and in great detail with a public health emergency. So these executive orders have the force of law,” Williams said.
Several Republican senators are sponsoring a bill to limit executive orders to 15 days. Deputy Republican Whip Kip Bateman says it’s unfair to put local police and health officials between the will of the governor and the will of some of the people.
“Law enforcement reached out to me yesterday. They’re concerned because they’ve taken an oath to enforce the law and they don’t want to give summons to folks who just want to go out and work out at a gym. So they’ve been put in a very awkward position and I just think that as time goes on, more and more people are going to get frustrated and angry and I just don’t want any problems,” Bateman said.
Murphy says phase one of reopening the state is mostly outdoor activities, which have been eased so far. He hinted at next week potentially looking at even more restrictions being lifted.