I went to Trenton this morning to observe a couple of Senate committee hearings and to tweet what was going on. First was the Senate Education Committee which addressed a number of issues, none of which were the front-page items like tenure, vouchers, and charter schools. Senator Ruiz chaired the short meeting which addressed things like including cheerleaders in school injury safety programs, school disaster preparedness plans, and pension contributions for instructors in institutions of higher learning. All important, and there was not much contention in the meeting. The highlight was hearing the chants of the Catholic school students outside expressing their support for taxpayer-funded vouchers.
The Energy and Environment Committee was also generally bipartisan. Of course, it helps when the Republican members of that committee (Beck and Bateman) are sane and rational. The only vote on party lines was a bill to allow wind turbine generators on farm land in Salem and Cumberland counties.
Probably the most interesting discussion was on a bill sponsored by Senator Beck to close what she calls the “fake farmers loophole” – what I would call the “Jon Runyan loophole.” Currently the definition of a “farm” for the purpose of tax credits is quite broad. Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club cited several Fortune 500 companies that grow pear trees or soybeans between buildings on their office campuses in order to qualify for tax breaks. The most famous fake farm is Runyan’s “donkey farm” in Mount Laurel.
There was a discussion on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) but Chairman Bob Smith wanted to limit the hearing to the constitutionality of the proposed bill. Some argue that restricting the transport of polluted liquids in the state violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Others contend that if in-state and out-of-state polluters are treated equally, the law is constitutional. Expect to hear more on this in the new session come January.
If you’re a political junkie like me, attending these hearings is a good day’s entertainment, and the cost is minimal. With free parking in the State House Garage (I hope the Governor is not reading this) and free admission, who needs Disney World?