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1-9-12 and 1-10-12 Lame Duck Session Closes
Star Ledger - Bills fly through Senate, Assembly as jam-packed day in Trenton unfolds "…The Legislature handed Christie a small but welcome victory on education reform, passing a bill that gives private companies unprecedented authority to build and manage up to a dozen public schools in Newark, Camden and Trenton..."

Philadelphia Inquirer - Last-minute N.J. measures: Pets to school budgets

Star Ledger - N.J. Senate passes bill banning political fundraising on all public property

The Record - Bills cleared on final day include sports betting, school election measures

Star Ledger - Bills fly through Senate, Assembly as jam-packed day in Trenton unfolds "…The Legislature handed Christie a small but welcome victory on education reform, passing a bill that gives private companies unprecedented authority to build and manage up to a dozen public schools in Newark, Camden and Trenton..."

Published: Tuesday, January 10, 2012, 6:00 AM Updated: Tuesday, January 10, 2012, 7:49 AM

By Christopher Baxter/Statehouse BureauThe Star-Ledger

TRENTON — Two years of deal-making in the state Legislature snowballed into a jam-packed final session Monday that touched on everything from allowing private companies to build and run public schools in three cities to giving builders a reprieve on drinking water protections.

Lobbyists crammed the Statehouse hallways for much of the long day as Republicans and Democrats met behind the scenes to choreograph their final act. Work on more than 100 bills up for consideration began at 4 p.m. and continued well past 10:30.

While there was some back-room maneuvering on several bills, the 214th Legislature’s last day wasn't jam-packed with the kind of drama that peppered previous final days of the lame duck session.

"When you’re changing governors or changing control of both houses, then it’s two or three o’clock in the morning that we’re here trying to get things done," said State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), who said the night would have had more fireworks if Democrats had taken up a large part of Gov. Chris Christie’s economic agenda.

But Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Essex) said that even on calmer final days, blood pressure does rise behind closed doors.

"It’s controlled chaos, and there’s always a couple of curve balls,’’ he said.

The Senate and Assembly worked to clear their to-do lists just in time to usher in their next session today, which kicks off with the swearing in of new lawmakers and is followed by Gov. Chris Christie's State of the State address this afternoon, in which he will detail his priorities for the year ahead.

Democrats previewed their road ahead Monday, announcing a bill to allow gay marriage and and an effort to raise the minimum wage. But before lawmakers could tear the final page from the session’s calendar, a laundry list of bills demanded their attention:

SOME URBAN SCHOOLS TO BE PRIVATIZED

The Legislature handed Christie a small but welcome victory on education reform, passing a bill that gives private companies unprecedented authority to build and manage up to a dozen public schools in Newark, Camden and Trenton.

The Schools Development Authority is responsible for construction in these and other low-income districts, but dozens of projects have been stalled since Christie took office — and no schools have been built to replace those that are crumbling or overcrowded.

"This is the first step into redefining education in our urban areas," said state Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden), the bill’s sponsor. "This gives a chance for our urban youths."

Known as the Urban Hope Act, the bill (S3173) is Christie’s signature education reform achievement since declaring one year ago that 2011 would be "the year of education reform."

The governor’s other education efforts — to overhaul a 100-year-old teacher tenure law, offer higher salaries to the best educators and give vouchers for students in failing public schools to attend private and parochial schools — have so far failed to win legislative approval.

CLEAN WATER PROTECTIONS ON HOLD

Over the objections of the Obama administration, the Legislature passed a controversial bill that would delay and, in some cases, circumvent protections for the state’s drinking water supply.

Backers of the bill (A4335) say it could spur tens of millions of dollars in construction work to help kick-start the economy. "The environment will continue to be protected by the reams of regulations that already serve as a safety net," said Ted Zangari, director of a coalition of 30 leading business groups.

Critics contend that argument is a smoke screen for builders who want to cash in on valuable open space. Jeff Tittel, head of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said he plans to petition the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take control of the state’s water rules. "This bill is not about jobs, it’s about taking care of polluters and special interests," Tittel said.

The EPA on Friday said a provision in the bill that would allow sewer extensions into undeveloped land without regard for how much sewage wastewater treatment plants could handle "defies common sense" and may violate the federal Clean Water Act.

The fierce debate surrounds rules approved in 2008 by then-state environmental chief Lisa Jackson, who now heads the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to curtail development by limiting sewer lines and septic systems on more than 300,000 acres across the state. Lawmakers amended the bill to remove a section that required "substantial compliance" with certain provisions of the rules, language harshly opposed by environmentalists.

DRIVING RULES FOR TEENS AND PARENTS

A state that already had one of the nation’s strictest teen driving laws just made it stricter — for the teens and their parents. The Legislature passed a bill requiring more practice driving for teens with learner’s permits and a course in teen driver safety for their parents.

The orientation for parents — no more than 90 minutes — could be taken online or through a program that is approved by the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety and Motor Vehicle Commission. The bill also extends the teen driver’s permit phase from six months to one year.

Provided it is approved by Christie, the law would take effect early next year. "These requirements will help produce better and safer teen drivers, while giving parents greater peace of mind," said Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), who chairs the Assembly Transportation Committee and co-sponsored the bill (A3309).

A NEW CAMPAIGN-FREE ZONE

The Legislature banned political fundraising on all public property, a measure introduced in response to a series of stories by The Star-Ledger about the Elizabeth Board of Education.

If signed by Christie, the bill (S3166) would expand a current law that prohibits candidates for state office from raising money in state buildings, applying it to all candidates for any public office and their representatives on all public property.

Lesniak, a primary sponsor of the bill, said it was a response to documented nepotism and patronage within the Elizabeth Board of Education, along with tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions collected from teachers, administrators and other employees.

Board officials have denied any wrongdoing. Donald Goncalves, a spokesman for the Elizabeth Board of Education, said the board supports the bill and already has a policy on the issue.

"Sen. Lesniak’s continuing attacks on the Board — claiming erroneously that this bill was somehow necessary because of purported solicitations for campaign contributions on school property — are as wrong and politically-motivated as his other attacks on the Board," he said.

LAWMAKERS PULL BILL ON LEGAL ADVERTISEMENTS

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) did not call a vote on a bill that would no longer require towns to post legal ads in newspapers after meeting with members of the Democratic caucus. A spokesman for Oliver, Tom Hester, Jr., said she "plans another look at it in the next session."

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) had also planned a vote on the bill, but said he would follow the Assembly’s lead.

Newspapers sell about $20 million in legal ads a year to towns, according to the New Jersey Press Association. Of that, about $8 million comes from public coffers, while companies and individuals reimburse the state’s 566 municipalities for the other $12 million.

The measure’s sponsors said it would save towns money, although a July 2010 analysis by the Office of Legislative Services said the effect on local finances would be "indeterminate."

The newspaper industry fiercely opposed the measure, casting doubt on whether advertising on the internet would save money, and saying it would be "devastating" to newspapers.

Assemblyman Jon Bramnick (R-Union), a sponsor of the measure, said he and Assembly colleagues were beginning to discuss alternatives like lowering advertising rates for municipalities and increasing rates for private entities, which haven’t been raised since 1983.

THREE GAMBLING BILLS PASS

Lawmakers were betting that drumming up more interest in wagering options will give a revenue boost to the casino and horse racing industries as a pair of bills worked through both houses.

Under one bill (A4285), off-track betting on horse races would be allowed at bars and restaurants in 12 counties as part of a pilot program to determine the public appetite for that type of wagering away from racetracks. The bill calls for up to 20 terminals to be installed at 12 locations that have yet to be determined.

The Legislature approved betting on professional and college sports in case a federal ban on the gambling is lifted. The measure (S3113) prohibits betting on New Jersey college sports teams wherever they are playing and college sports teams playing in New Jersey.

Both houses also approved a bill reducing the state Casino Control Commission — which oversees Atlantic City’s 11 casinos — from five members to three. In anticipation of the measure, Gov. Chris Christie has not filled the two vacancies on the board.

WINE SALES

Wineries from New Jersey to California would be able to sell their vintages directly to consumers and retailers, under a bill that narrowly passed the Assembly 51-18.

For months the bill (A4436) divided Democrats. Legislators in the north wanted to protect their liquor retailers and distributors. South Jersey lawmakers sought to boost blossoming wineries in their districts.

In the end, Republican votes pushed the bill out of the Assembly and onto Christie's desk.

ATTORNEY GENERAL CONFIRMATION

The state Senate confirmed Jeffrey Chiesa to replace Paula Dow as the state's next attorney general. Chiesa, 46, of Branchburg, served for the past two years as Christie's chief counsel.

Star-Ledger staff writers Jessica Calefati, Mike Frassinelli, Matt Friedman, MaryAnn Spoto and Susan K. Livio contributed to this report

 

Philadelphia Inquirer - Last-minute N.J. measures: Pets to school budgets

TRENTON - Pets could be protected in court orders after domestic-violence incidents. School board elections could be moved from April to November, and districts could pass some school budgets without voter approval.

And despite objections from environmentalists and the federal government, sewer lines could be extended to new areas.

These measures, and dozens of others, were passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature and sent to Gov. Christie's desk in a marathon voting session that lasted late into Monday night as the two-year legislative period came to an end.

Midway through the evening, the Senate had passed, but the Assembly had not yet voted on, some of the most prominent bills up for consideration, including the Urban Hope Act. The legislation would allow private companies to build and manage a limited number of schools in Camden, Newark, and Trenton.

Objections were raised about a provision in the bill that would allow nonprofit operators of the so-called "renaissance" schools to bypass public bidding laws. Opponents also complained that the bill in its current form was rushed to approval.

If the bill passes, Christie is expected to sign it. It would be the only education-overhaul bill the Republican governor was able to push through during his "year of education."

One of the most controversial measures approved by both houses on Monday was a delay on the implementation of limits to new sewer service in the state, effectively allowing developers to build in environmentally sensitive areas. Environmentalists and the Obama administration had expressed fears that, without the limits, there could be increased water pollution.

A measure to allow towns and school districts to move school board and budget elections to November sailed through the Legislature. It was an effort to save money and increase turnout, proponents said. The measure also allows school budgets to be approved automatically, without going to voters, if they are within the state's 2 percent cap on property-tax increases.

Additional school aid was approved by both houses. The bill provides $4.1 million to school districts that have had recent spikes in enrollment, most of them in South Jersey. Affected would be the Edgewater, Chesterfield, East Greenwich, Kingsway Regional, South Harrison, and Swedesboro-Woolwich districts.

Passed by both houses was a measure to allow those delinquent on child-support payments to maintain their driving privileges in certain situations

Some bills died Monday. One would have allowed government entities to bypass newspapers and just post legal notices on their websites. Also killed was a controversial measure that would have allowed commercial lumberjacks to cut and sell trees from state forests.

At mid-evening, the Assembly - but not the Senate - had approved a measure that would require the parent or guardian of a prospective driver under age 18 applying for a learner's permit or examination permit to complete an online 90-minute teen-driver orientation program.

Also awaiting a Senate vote was a bill to eliminate the three-day waiting period before getting married as a means to help the state's wedding tourism market.

A bill that would permit direct shipping of wine to state residents by small New Jersey and out-of-state wineries had yet to be brought to a vote in either chamber.

Christie signed a number of previously passed bills on Monday, including one that requires 587 local authorities, boards, and commissions to establish Internet websites and post information about finances, meetings, and employees.

He also vetoed or conditionally vetoed several bills, including measures that would:

Allow pharmacies to sell up to 10 syringes without a prescription to people over 18. The bill would also eliminate criminal penalties for possession of syringes without a prescription. Christie agrees with the bill, but said he wanted lawmakers to add a provision that requires those who pick up needles to show identification, a measure he believes would help ensure that minors aren't buying needles and would limit the distribution of syringes.

Revise requirements for the delivery of emergency medical services. Christie conditionally vetoed the bill, saying it warranted additional study because it could cost millions to implement. He asked that the health and senior services commissioner review the state's existing services and the changes proposed in the bill and report back to him within six months.

Permit an eligible laid-off worker to continue receiving unemployment insurance benefits while placed in on-the-job training with an eligible employer for a maximum of 24 hours per week for up to six weeks. Christie said the bill was nearly identical to one he vetoed earlier this year. This bill would spend $3 million of "scarce taxpayer dollars" without "offering even a single cent of spending cuts to pay the way," Christie said, adding that the bill also ignored "robust" job training and incentive programs already offered in the state.


Contact staff writer Matt Katz at 609-217-8355, mkatz@phillynews.com, or @mattkatz00 on Twitter. Read his blog, "Christie Chronicles," at philly.com/christiechronicles.

 

Star Ledger - N.J. Senate passes bill banning political fundraising on all public property

Published: Monday, January 09, 2012, 5:42 PM Updated: Monday, January 09, 2012, 7:31 PM

By Christopher Baxter/Statehouse BureauThe Star-Ledger

Education School #51, where the Elizabeth Board of Education holds its meetings.

TRENTON — The state Senate today passed a bill that would ban political fundraising on all public property, a measure introduced in response to a series of stories about the Elizabeth Board of Education.

If signed by Gov. Chris Christie, the bill (S3166), approved 37-0, would expand on current law that prohibits candidates for state office from raising money in state buildings, applying it to all candidates for any public office and their representatives on all public property.

Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) said the bill was a response to stories by The Star-Ledger documenting nepotism and patronage within the Elizabeth Board of Education, along with tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions collected from teachers, administrators and other employees.

“I cannot think of a single valid reason for an elected officeholder or someone seeking office to raise funds on public property, treating public service as if it were a personal campaign ATM,” Lesniak said in a statement.

Elizabeth officials have denied any wrongdoing.                      

The Assembly is also expected to take up the legislation today.

 The Record - Bills cleared on final day include sports betting, school election measures

Monday, January 9, 2012 Last updated: Monday January 9, 2012, 10:00 PM

STATE HOUSE BUREAU

The Legislature’s marathon voting session Monday – the last day of the lame duck session – cleared bills to legalize sports betting at racetracks and casinos, move school elections to November and cut back on one long-standing pension perk.

But several key bills did not clear the Assembly and the Senate in the last chance to do so, a list that includes Governor Christie’s push to end payouts to public employees for unused sick days. Those bills now have to start all over again in a legislative session that begins Tuesday or face being cast aside altogether.

Many bills made it out in time for consideration by Christie, who also signed several pieces of previously approved legislation into law on Monday.

Here’s a closer look at what bills were moved, which weren’t, and which ones Christie signed into law.

WHAT PASSED

Sports wagering at racetracks and casinos: A showdown in U.S. District Court in Trenton seems inevitable now that a bill that would let state residents bet on pro and college sports at Atlantic City casinos and the state's racetracks has passed both houses.

The governor has indicated he would sign the bill, which comes on the heels of a ballot question in November that was approved by voters by a 2-1 margin. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which was sponsored by then-U.S. Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey, bars 46 states from allowing wagering on sporting events, with a few exceptions such as horse racing and jai alai.

Only Nevada can offer full-fledged sports gambling, such as on individual National Football League or on major college games.

Bill sponsor, Sen. Ray Lesniak, D-Union, said he hopes to see the state Attorney General's office file suit "in a matter of weeks," adding that he would expect a ruling "within six months."

Banning non-state employees from public pensions: The bill would prohibit new employees at organizations outside of state government from qualifying for taxpayer-funded benefits is also scheduled for a final vote.

It was introduced after a series of articles in The Record beginning in late 2009 revealed that 63 retirees from three outside organizations — the New Jersey League of Municipalities, New Jersey School Boards Association and New Jersey Association of Counties — were receiving a combined $1.3 million in public retirement benefits annually.

The wide-ranging benefits reform bill signed into law by Christie last year did not remove those employees from the benefits system or address new hires at the organizations.

November school elections: The bill will allow school elections to be moved to November in an effort to save money and generate more voter participation on school issues.

The measure would also allow school districts to avoid putting their budgets before voters if spending stays within the 2 percent cap on levy hikes that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2011. If signed into by Christie, voters could move school board elections in their town from April to November by passing a referendum, or a municipal government or the local school board could also move the election by approving a resolution.

Direct shipping of wine: The bill would allow wineries to go around distributors and ship directly to consumers. Small wineries, both in and outside New Jersey, could to ship products directly to the consumer and retailers via the Internet.

Wineries would also be allowed to open retail outlets, up to 15 each, to sell directly to the consumer. The wineries could also work with restaurants to sell bottles to diners.

Right now, New Jersey’s 39 wineries are not allowed to ship wine directly to consumers and restricted to only six retail outlets. The bill attempts to address a piece of legislation passed in 2010 that restricted direct wine sales to only New Jersey wineries that was struck down in federal court. The measure was scheduled for votes in the Assembly and Senate for late Monday.

Unemployment benefits extension: The bill would allow laid-off workers to receive extended unemployment benefits, federally-funded, as long as New Jersey’s jobless rate remains higher than the federal average. Sponsored by Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Wood Ridge the proposal gives the unemployed 100 percent of their benefits for at least the next two months. It continues an option made available by the federal law and extended by Congress in late December amid continued slow economic activity nationwide. Cleared in the Senate on Monday, lawmakers in the Assembly were expected to take it up before the session ended.

Upgrade teen-aged driver requirements: The bill would require any driver under the age of 18 who is applying for a learner’s permit or examination permit to have a parent or guardian complete an approved teen-driver orientation program.

The program may be completed through an approved online provider and would be no longer than 90 minutes. It would also be made available, but not required, for drivers between 18 and 21 who are seeking an examination permit.

The bill would also extend the permit phase from six months to one year for all new drivers, age 16 to 20, before they become eligible for a probationary license. It passed the Assembly late Monday and was pending in the Senate.

WHAT THEY DIDN'T PASS

Ending public employee sick pay: A bill proposed by Christie in 2010 as part of his “tool kit” for addressing high property taxes would have put a cap on the payouts some public employees can get upon retirement for unused sick days.

Lawmakers passed a $15,000 cap in 2010, but Christie conditionally vetoed it and said he wanted an outright ban on sick day payouts.

Despite pressing hard over the last several weeks, lawmakers did not act on his veto or a counter proposal to cap payouts at $7,500.

Optional publishing of legal notices: Local governments would be allowed towns to post legal notices online rather than in newspapers in effort to the save taxpayer dollars used to pay for the ads, under a measure that’s lingered in the Legislature for years.

Legislative leaders put the bill on the agenda at the last minute, and then yanked it late as well.

The measure was opposed by the state’s newspaper industry, which argued it would not save much money and would harm seniors and low-income populations without access to computers.

$100 million for flood-ravaged areas: A bill put forward by Sen. Robert Gordon, D-Fair Lawn, and Assemblywomen Connie Wagner, D-Paramus, and Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood, would have provided $100 million to towns and counties that suffered infrastructure damage during Hurricane Irene, which hit New Jersey in late August and caused severe flooding in Bergen and Passaic counties.

Revenue from a bond issue would have been split evenly, with $50 million going to municipalities and $50 million to counties.

The money would have come from a emergency borrowing that would not need to go before voters under a special clause in the state constitution that allows officials to respond to a disaster. The Senate passed the bill last month, but it never went before the full Assembly.

Allow logging on state lands: The bill called for the state Department of Environmental Protection to develop a forest management plan to identify areas that could be logged.

The DEP would hire and supervise a contractor under a five-year agreement after a public comment period. A contractor would pay the DEP for the right to log and would then be able to sell timber and other forest products on the open market.

The DEP estimated the program would cost the state $2.7 million over five years, but sponsors argued the state would likely make money from the venture after negotiating a contract with loggers.

Solar tax credit overhaul: Legislation would require utilities to devote a much larger portion of their energy output to solar, more than doubling their production in 2013.

The aim is to prop up one of New Jersey's youngest but fastest-growing industries until it is able to sustain itself. But critics say that could be decades away, if ever, and in the meantime the subsidies will come at the expense of ratepayers and other energy industries.

With a glut in solar production causing the price of solar credits -- which utilities buy to fill their solar output quotas -- to plummet, projects have stalled, such as in Passaic County, where a $27 million plan recently failed to attract a single developer. One prospective developer that had signed on to a nearly identical solar project in 2008 said her company passed on Passaic's plan because of the drop in solar credits.

Some see the bill as a legislative "bailout," but proponents say it is necessary to prevent the public from absorbing the costs of the many solar projects backed by local, county and school governments in recent years during an industry bubble.

Require local government ethics training: A special gubernatorial task force recommended in October 2010 that members of municipal and county governments and affiliated authorities undergo mandatory ethics training.

The recommendation came in response to the high-profile arrests of many elected officials during the summer of 2009. A bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, D-Paramus, would make the local officials receive ethics training, or see their governments face losing state aid.

The bill would bring the local officials in line with state officials, who are already required to take regular ethics courses.

WHAT WAS SIGNED INTO LAW

Online transparency at authorities, boards and commissions: Christie signed a bill that will let taxpayers use their computers to review spending and other activities at New Jersey’s many authorities, boards and commissions.

The law was inspired by a report compiled last year by state Comptroller Matthew Boxer, who detailed how 587 local authorities, boards and commissions spend roughly $5 billion annually with little to no oversight.

The law applies to all state, regional and local boards, authorities and commissions.

It requires information such as budgets, audits, meeting minutes and notices, the agencies’ mission, the name and phone number of their principal officers, and a complete list of full- and part-time employees to be posted on a website or webpage within 13 months.

Permits towns and counties to generate funds to buy flood-prone properties: Christie signed a bill that will allow municipalities and counties to buy flood-prone properties from homeowners using money generated by a land preservation tax.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, D-Paramus, and Sen. Robert Gordon, D-Fair Lawn, was put forward after Hurricane Irene caused severe flooding throughout North Jersey last summer.

State law had allowed towns and counties to establish special taxes to preserve farms, open space, historic sites and recreation fields, but not flood-prone “blue acres.”

The new law authorizes the governments to use revenue from the land preservation tax to also purchase properties susceptible to flooding and restore them to a natural state or use them for recreation.

John Reitmeyer, Juliet Fletcher, John Brennan and Zach Patberg contributed to this article

 


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