“If a PhD in education can’t follow legislative process, how can the average citizen?”

A Blue Jersey reader emailed me Friday with the above question. Indeed, the system is convoluted. She was concerned about a bill mentioned in my diary: The Assembly abets Christie to allow important bills to languish.

The bill in question is Assembly 448 / Senate 165, which as the NJ School Board Association, explains, “provides a new career ladder for New Jersey’s educators who choose to remain in the classroom rather than moving into an administrative or supervisory role.” It also creates an 11-member Teacher Leader Endorsement Advisory Board.”

This bi-partisan bill was passed by both houses with not a single dissenting vote. So one might think it was a slam-dunk for Gov. Christie to sign it. Also it was sent to him at the end of July. One might think that he would have taken action by now.  

The state rules indicates that if the governor does not take action on a bill after 45 days it becomes the law. However, there is an exception. “If the house of origin, [in this case the Assembly], is in recess on the 45th day, the time is extended until it reconvenes.”

The Assembly closed shop in July, its members are on the campaign trail, and it is not expected to reconvene until November after the elections. Hence, there is the possibility we might not learn Christie’s decision on whether to sign, veto, or conditionally veto the bill until November. At that point he could even fail to sign it in which case it automatically becomes the law. Also the governor could order the Assembly to reconvene or the Assembly itself could decide to meet shortly, but neither option is on the horizon.

The Blue Jersey reader asked what Christie’s decision would likely be? Hard to tell. If he were unequivocally supportive he might have already signed it, as he has with some other bill sent to him at about the same time. So he might have objections. He had good reason to like the bill but he could conditionally veto it based on one or more objections, such as the requirement to set up a new Advisory Board in the Department of Education or the specific composition of the board as mandated in the bill.

If the bill were conditionally vetoed and the legislature accepts the governor’s conditions the revised version would become law. If he were to provide an absolute or conditional veto the legislature would have an opportunity to try to over-ride his decision with a two-thirds majority vote – something which the legislature has not been able to achieve during the Christie administration. Maybe he would just sign it.

Well lo and behold later on Friday Christie signed the bill referring to it as “a measure that supports professional development and peer leadership among New Jersey’s educators.” Good news! He could have signed it earlier, but he is otherwise distracted so let’s not quibble. Also there remain about 70 bills on his desk, some urgent in nature, for which he has taken no action.

Nonetheless, as the above attests this is just one example of how convoluted the process is and why the average citizen tunes out and is not  interested in following legislation. There is a short, handy How a Bill Becomes Law in NJ diagram and explanation on the legislative website, but few people know about it or pay attention to it.

Otto von Bismarck said, “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.” However, regardless how messy, that thought flies in the face of a participatory democracy. Maybe some day the process will be simplified and easier to understand so that more people follow the progress of bills and become more active in the creation of laws.  

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