N.J. State of the State address: Murphy announces plan to revamp ‘antiquated’ liquor license system

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N.J. Governor Murphy delivers the 2023 State of the State Address at the Assembly Chambers in Trenton on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023

File photo: N.J. Governor Murphy delivers the 2023 State of the State Address at the Assembly Chambers in Trenton on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. (Edwin J. Torres/N.J. Governor’s Office)

During his fifth State of the State address Tuesday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy proposed an overhaul to the state’s liquor licensing system, and announced a program that would allow people in the state to freely obtain the overdose-reversing drug, naloxone.

Murphy’s proposal would gradually ease current liquor licensing restrictions allowing more businesses to apply for a license. The Democrat said the move would help revitalize downtown districts across the state after the pandemic took a toll on the local restaurant scene.

“Our liquor licensing regime is antiquated and confusing,” Murphy said. “We rely on a foundation of rules written in the days immediately after Prohibition to govern a 21st-century economy, that makes no sense.”

Currently, the state has a cap on liquor licenses, permitting towns only one license per 3,000 residents. Murphy wants to reduce the population cap each year by 10% over the next five years. Then, the state would remove the population requirement entirely.

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Micah Rasmussen, Executive Director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, said, under the current system, a liquor license can cost millions of dollars based on demand, and that Murphy’s proposal is likely to face challenges from groups representing existing license holders.

“This is going to be hotly contested,” Rasmussen said. “The lobbyists who represent current license holders are not going to be so easy to give up their monopoly and their advantage. But I think once the state can show that they’re really going to be held harmless, maybe we can start to move forward on some reforms.”

The plan would create tax credits for existing license holders financially impacted by an increased supply of liquor licenses.

Murphy also announced a program that would make naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, more accessible to the public.

After Murphy’s address, the Department of Human Services noted that people aged 14 and older will be able to “request and obtain naloxone at participating pharmacies for free without having to provide a name or reason.”

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Murphy used his speech to position New Jersey as a national leader in efforts to strengthen the economy, reduce gun-related violence, tackle youth mental health issues, and protect the environment.

He rattled off his accomplishments from 2022, including providing funding for license plate recognition technology to combat a rise in car thefts; codifying abortion access ahead of the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade; and implementing property tax relief through the ANCHOR program.

Tuesday, Murphy also extended the deadline to apply for ANCHOR until Feb. 28.

Republican lawmakers pushed back on the Governor’s saccharine disposition.

In his rebuttal, Senate Minority Leader Steven Oroho (R-Sussex) criticized Murphy’s agenda, claiming that New Jersey is on the “wrong track.”

“Despite the rosy picture Governor Murphy is trying to paint, the state of the state is not good. And after five years of the Murphy administration and two decades of full Democrat control of the Legislature, the outlook for New Jersey continues to get worse,” Oroho said. “We have the highest taxes, the most debt, and the worst business climate in the nation. Every year when national rankings come out, New Jersey is dead last.”

Notably absent on Tuesday was Murphy’s comment on a recent lawsuit challenging the state’s newly-signed concealed carry restrictions.

Monday, a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the legislation involving “sensitive places” where handguns are prohibited.

“I thought that he left himself open to criticism in not talking about the gun decision yesterday … but that’s going to be a long, drawn out, protracted battle,” Rasmussen said.

Murphy will join WHYY, WBGO, and WNYC for his monthly radio call-in show “Ask Governor Murphy” Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Listeners can submit questions for Murphy using the hashtag #AskGovMurphy.

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