FILE - NJ Joseph Pennacchio 10-22-2015

New Jersey state Sen. Joe Pennacchio.

(The Center Square) – Republican senators want Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration to turn over records related to a $53 million settlement with the families of 119 veterans who died at state-run homes during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

State Sens. Steven Oroho, R-Sussex, and Joe Pennacchio, R- Montville, filed requests for records under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) with the Governor’s Office, Department of Health, Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, and Department of Law & Public Safety.

“We’ve filed a request for public records related to the $53 million that apparently will be paid by New Jersey taxpayers to settle claims of negligence and incompetence made against the Murphy administration for deaths in State-run veterans homes,” Oroho, the incoming Republican leader, said in a statement.

“The documents we are seeking will help us to understand what went wrong at the start of the coronavirus pandemic so we can develop effective policies that better protect our seniors and veterans,” Oroho added. “This isn’t about playing ‘gotcha’ with the administration, we’re trying to save lives.”

Alyana Alfaro Post, press secretary for Murphy, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Thus far, Murphy’s representatives have either declined to comment to The Center Square about the settlement or ignored requests for comment.

Democrats in the state legislature similarly dodged The Center Square’s requests for comment. Republicans, however, have pounced, with the entire Republican Senate caucus calling for an investigation into the state’s COVID-19 response and the $53 million settlement.

On March 31, 2020, the New Jersey Department of Health issued a directive barring nursing homes from turning away patients who tested positive for COVID-19. The mandate, which was subsequently rescinded, mirrored one issued in New York.

In October 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice opened a civil-rights investigation into how veterans’ homes handled the COVID-19 outbreak, apparently focusing on the Menlo Park and Paramus facilities. Separately, the state attorney general is taking a broader look at how New Jersey’s long-term care facilities responded to the pandemic.

The state runs veterans homes in Menlo Park, Paramus and Vineland. The Menlo Park home recorded 103 resident deaths, while Paramus reported 89 and Vineland 13.