Beware the Ides of December

The Ides of March proved deadly for Julius Caesar. Now for us it’s deja vu with three men (seen above) in a room, so you have to “Hold your nose and close your eyes. We want our leaders to save the day. But we don’t get a say in what they trade away.”* They are trying to pass last-minute controversial legislation which neither the public nor even many legislators have time to review – all by December 17. Doing so in the midst of the holiday season is like issuing Friday evening press releases which are generally bad news and deliberately get scant attention. It’s not uncommon for bills that favor corporations, large donors or a specific political party to be quietly passed at the end of the year.

With eight days to go, the legislative leadership has not yet posted notice of any of the bills that might be on the voting board on the 17th. Some are worthy of passage. Others have flaws leaving your support for them a Hobsons choice – “take it or leave it.” Below are three problematic bills.

$15.00 Minimum Wage

Although better late than never, the goal should be to provide New Jerseyans a living wage. The bill does not do that. It proposes annual increases which are too low. For the average worker it does not reach $15.00 until 2024. Because of the insistence of Sen. Sweeney, for farmworkers, teenagers, seasonal workers and employees at businesses with fewer than 10 workers it does not reach the goal until 2029. Creating these new exemptions is unfair and  exacerbates income inequality. NJPP says, “This bill completely dismisses the seriousness of poverty and has the fingerprints of New Jersey’s business lobby all over it.” Raising the minimum wage sooner is essential for struggling people and is critical to growing our economy. Because of procedural rules the bill may not be voted on until January. Fortunately, while the State and the federal government have been dragging their feet, others are imposing immediate increases to a full $15.00 for their employees, including Bergen County, Jersey City and even Amazon.

Marijuana 

It remains unclear whether Gov. Murphy supports this version and whether the Senate has the votes to pass it. Some lawmakers remain hesitant to end a long-standing prohibition on marijuana. Murphy wanted a 25% State tax, but the bill has a 12% tax (more likely to undercut street dealers) plus 2% for the towns. There is concern that preference for businesses that want to apply only favor 4 large cities, not including Camden. There is also a wrenching discussion about fairness in the criminal justice system and the role of race in hundreds of thousands of drug convictions over the decades. The bill would allow past convictions for small amounts of marijuana to have their records wiped clean. Some lawmakers want to go further. 

Constitutional Amendment on Apportionment

We need reasonable apportionment reforms. However, this amendment would enshrine partisan gerrymandering into our Constitution which would benefit Democrats for years, but could later come back to bite us. With Sen. Sweeney’s simmering battle against Gov. Murphy the bill also reduces to one the number of commissioners the governor can appoint. The legislature appears to have the votes to pass the bill, but ultimately for it to become law it will have to be approved as a Public Question. Objections include: 

  • The restrictions placed upon the independent, non-partisan, court appointed tie-breaker, relegating the individual’s role to no more than a checklist prefect.
  • The establishment and precedence of a mathematical model, that while seemingly fair on paper, is not rigorous enough to prevent unjust manipulation of the formula by parties with vested interest.
  • Reserving a minimum of 4 out of 13 seats to elected officials, and giving direct influence to legislators in the appointment of at least 8 commission members.

Anna Wong, Indivisible 5th District say, “After a blue wave swept the state, Democratic party bosses want to consolidate that power by controlling whose votes get to count where. New Jersey already has an independent commission for drawing district lines. We don’t need to cheat to win.” 

For bills that you are hoping will, or will not, be posted for probable voting on December 17, go to the Legislative Calendar which later rather than sooner, will list each bill. Existing bills that are not voted on automatically are carried over to 2019. It’s not too late to let your legislators know where you stand on these or other bills in the sausage-making process.  

*“The Room Where it Happens” – Hamilton: The Musical. 

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