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4-23-13 Education & related Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight - Governor, Legislature Tend to Treat School Violence as Local Issue…Districts across the state are weighing an array of tactics, from expanded use of ID cards to armed guards in schools

The Record column-Stile: Christie's gun plan plays it safe politically

Star Ledger - Democrats may negotiate final N.J. budget before voting against it


NJ Spotlight - Governor, Legislature Tend to Treat School Violence as Local Issue…Districts across the state are weighing an array of tactics, from expanded use of ID cards to armed guards in schools

The Record column-Stile: Christie's gun plan plays it safe politically


Star Ledger - Democrats may negotiate final N.J. budget before voting against it



NJ Spotlight - Governor, Legislature Tend to Treat School Violence as Local Issue…Districts across the state are weighing an array of tactics, from expanded use of ID cards to armed guards in schools

By John Mooney, April 23, 2013 in Education |1 Comment

For all the recent flurry of proposals about gun safety from Gov. Chris Christie and the Democratic-led Legislature, few have sought to change much in the places that have spurred much of the discussion: the local schools.

The Christie-appointed task force created in the aftermath of the Newtown, CT, killings largely praised the steps that New Jersey schools and the state as a whole have taken in ensuring student safety.

In response, the governor in his package of gun safety proposals released on Friday said he would leave further steps to local communities to individually decide for their schools.

And the main legislative proposals have said much the same so far, with the most direct proposal from the Democratic leadership only calling for another school safety task force to further discuss potential steps.

“We were impressed by the substantial work that has been done on school safety,” said Peter Verniero, the former state Attorney General and Supreme Court justice who co-chaired the latest task force.

“That part of the equation is working,” he said yesterday. “That was the clear sense we got from the testimony, the hearings, and everything else.”

Still, there are changes afoot in many schools, and some tricky areas that the state will have to weigh in on, several players said, as educators try to stay one step ahead of the possibility of deadly violence in their midst.

For instance, districts have begun to at least talk about putting armed personnel in their buildings, and in separate requests usually reserved for academic or extracurricular programs, two of them won approval from local voters last week to specifically beef up security staffing.

Technologies for making schools safer are also being reviewed, from the expanded use of identification cards to one bill in the Legislature that would require “panic buttons” in every school to alert local police of an intruder. Others talked about the use of smartphones for the same purpose.

That raises the question: What is the state’s role in setting some guidelines or requirements. And a familiar follow-on: the inevitable issue of funding.

“I think there does need to be some basic premises laid down,” said state Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden), the Senate sponsor of a bill that would create a new task force to consider all these questions. “But I also think a place like Camden has very different needs than other parts of my district, and we have to give some leeway.”

One area that Norcross said would surely need state guidance is the possibility of staff or others carrying weapons in schools. Must they be active law enforcement? To whom do they report? What will be their liabilities?

“I think we will need to have some very clear guidelines for anytime we have someone with a gun a school,” Norcross said.

He did not hide his expressed view that schools need to strike a balance between safety and becoming what he called “armed fortresses.”

The use of armed officers is a topic that Verniero’s task force took up, as did the state’s existing school safety task force created under former Gov. Jon Corzine. In a report issued in 2007, it included some broad guidelines that any such staff have proper law enforcement training and be under the purview of the local police, not the school staff.

“But there are other liability issues, and questions as to how they would be trained,” said Richard Bozza, executive director of the state’s superintendents association and member of the task force. “If districts want to take this route, there are questions as to what is the proper way to go.”

Bozza said he did not believe a new task force as proposed by Norcross was needed, but he did agree that the state does need to keep the discussions going as strategies, technologies, and attitudes change.

“When we first had DARE officers, there was the question of why there had to be a police car in front of the [school] building,” he said. “Now there is the question as to why isn’t there a police car in front of the building.”


The Record column-Stile: Christie’s gun plays it safe politically

Governor Christie rolled out a plan Friday aimed at protecting New Jersey residents from gun violence.

His 50 "common sense" recommendations appear also to be a strategy to protect his political future by offering up just enough new restrictions and penalties to satisfy New Jersey's pro-gun control voters without alienating the Second Amendment purists whom he'll have to woo if he runs for the Republican nomination for president in 2016.

At least for the moment, Christie's positioning seems to have worked. Neither side was thrilled or furious. Praise was tempered by disappointment, but it did not spark a passionate outcry. Both sides shrugged.

That might be because New Jersey, like the rest of the nation, was riveted by the hunt for the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings when the report was released Friday afternoon, a shrewd, end-of-the-week time to disclose unflattering or sensitive news. Or maybe a sense of resignation, even fatigue over the gun issue has set in after last week's failure to approve background checks in the U.S. Senate.

Christie's careful structuring of the plan may have had something to do with the muted response.

The plan was not cheered by gun control advocates. Christie did not call to limit ammunition magazines from 15 rounds to 10, a proposal that was approved by the Assembly last month. There was no call for mandatory firearms training.

"It's gun control-lite," said Bryan Miller, director of Heeding God's Call, a Philadelphia-based gun control group that tracks New Jersey legislation.

But critics also found it hard to fault other Christie ideas, such as imposing tougher penalties for gun trafficking, for using "straw purchasers" to legally buy guns on behalf of criminals, and allowing firearms to fall into the hands of minors.

Gun rights groups also registered a mixed reaction. Frank J. Fiamingo, president of the Second Amendment Society of New Jersey, also applauded the tougher penalties. His group supports any laws that prevent guns from getting into the hands of criminals. Yet, he was "disappointed" with Christie's proposal to ban future sales of large, military-style .50-caliber rifles, used largely in competitions. The state police said Monday that they "are not aware of anyone ever being shot" by one of these rifles.

"So why are we trying to fix something that isn't a problem?" Fiamingo said. He also criticized Christie's call to mandate photo IDs at all gun purchases as another unnecessary infringement on legal gun owners' constitutional rights.

The governor took other steps not to alarm gun owners.

The governor's call for a more holistic approach – expanded mental health treatment, tighter restrictions on the sale of violent video games to minors — is also embraced by national gun rights groups, who prefer to debate the root causes of gun violence rather than fight new restrictions on gun sales. After the Newtown shootings, Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president and chief executive officer of the National Rifle Association, blamed gun violence on the culture's glorification of violence, especially on video games.

Christie also sent a signal to the gun lobby that gun control will not be a priority — not even a low priority — if he is elected president.

Christie said he did not support imposing new, uniform federal gun laws on states, even though his own task force report described how guns legally bought in states with weak gun laws routinely found their way into the hands of New Jersey criminals. Christie knows this firsthand as the former United States attorney for New Jersey.

During his seven-year tenure, Christie prosecuted several high-profile gun trafficking cases that exposed the nation's patchwork of lax gun laws. Christie, who routinely touts his state's bipartisan record as a model for the nation to follow, has no intention of promoting New Jersey's strict laws as an example for Congress to follow.

"I've always been for having states handle this on their own," Christie said. He then cited how Congressional Republicans recently pushed federal legislation that would have required New Jersey to honor "conceal and carry" permits from other states.

"Federal intervention cuts both ways, depending on which way the wind's blowing," Christie said.

Despite the relative silence, Christie's strategy might have its limitations. The Assembly Democrats have already passed a more aggressive, 22-bill package and the Senate Democrats are also preparing their own gun violence package. The Democrats have been jamming the agenda with legislation designed to demonstrate Christie is out of step with New Jersey voters. They will likely follow the same script with gun violence.

And Christie's attempt to placate gun owners with his preference for states' rights also has its limits. Fiamingo said the "conceal and carry" law is a priority for gun owners. Christie is now on record opposing that.

"It's not going to play in the 49 other states," Fiamingo warned. "It's not going to play in New Jersey."

But Christie is also a candidate with a short-range goal of winning reelection in a state where the overwhelming majority of voters support New Jersey's strict gun laws. He needs to pay deference to those laws for the next six months, especially with emotions still raw following the Newtown shootings in December.

And if Christie jumps into the 2016 race, he will have to run a gantlet of Republican primaries in pro-gun states in the South and the West. He can't afford to be seen as a gun-control activist from a blue New Jersey. If anyone has any doubts, Friday's report put them to rest.

Email: stile@northjersey.com

North Jersey Media Group Inc.


Star Ledger - Democrats may negotiate final N.J. budget before voting against it

By Jarrett Renshaw/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger

on April 22, 2013 at 4:04 PM, updated April 23, 2013 at 6:28 AM

TRENTON — Democratic leaders are considering negotiating a state budget deal with Gov. Chris Christie that would force Republicans to defend the spending plan on the campaign trail this fall, The Star-Ledger has learned.

Democrats who hold majorities in both houses would negotiate the details with Christie and the Republicans but only provide the minimum number of votes necessary to pass the spending bill in June, according to two sources familiar with the proposal who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss it publicly.

The potential deal — similar to the one struck in 2010 — would require every Republican in the Legislature to vote yes on the budget and allow Christie to get the bulk of his spending plan through the Legislature without a messy government shutdown. It would give moderate Democrats the chance to support it while other Democrats could use it as a wedge issue in their campaigns, sources said.

The plan is not yet finalized and may change next month when critical April revenue figures are released, the sources said. With the full support of Republicans, it would take five Democratic senators and nine Assembly Democrats to get the budget passed.

Christie unveils $32.9B N.J. budget that expands Medicaid, covers pension payment

Assembly Budget Chairman Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) refused to talk publicly about internal discussions, but said: "Everything is on the table." Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak declined to comment.

The past two years, Democrats sent Christie a budget filled with items — such as a tax on millionaires and increased funding for Planned Parenthood — that he cut with his veto pen. The governor’s actions prompted Democrats to criticize Christie as uncaring and opposed to woman’s issues.

In 2010, Christie made massive cuts to school aid, property tax rebates and a host of other popular items to combat the Great Recession. Democrats wanted Republicans to own the cuts, so they struck a deal to provide the minimum number of votes to pass the bill. The move forced Christie into behind-the-scenes negotiations with several Republican lawmakers who had objections to some of his spending items.

While a negotiated budget may play well for Democrats in legislative races, it would rob Christie’s likely challenger, state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), of the opportunity to use the theater of the budget to draw distinctions between herself and Christie, said Montclair political science professor Brigid Harrison said.

"I think that part of her ability to wage a successful campaign is to differentiate herself and her party from Christie, and it’s hard to do that when you’re allowing Republicans to pass a budget," Harrison said. "It really deflates her attempt to say how a Democratic governor would do things differently."

Buono’s campaign did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Christie’s proposed $32.8 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1 includes many things Democrats support, such as the expansion of Medicaid and more money for the developmentally disabled. During budget hearings, Democrats have expressed concern about Christie’s lack of funding for the higher education reorganization, local school debt costs and no new money for ailing nursing homes.

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, the ranking Republican on the budget committee, said he welcomes the opportunity to negotiate a spending plan, saying it’s a "much better option than the mess of a process the Democrats undertook in the past several years."

He said one critical plan that must be preserved in the budget is Christie’s $2 million pilot school voucher program.

"It’s very important," said O’Scanlon, of Monmouth County. "We can’t just keep denying students the opportunity for a better education, and Democrats can’t argue, as they’ve done in the past, that the program is too big. It’s not."

Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608