Author Archive: Scott Weingart

News Roundup & Open Thread for Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wait, you mean contracts are actually binding?

  • Chris Christie admits that his election-season claims that he could unilaterally overturn a contract his predecessor made with state workers were a bunch of malarkey.
  • Chris Christie’s War on the Middle Class (and the environment)

  • Christie’s fare hikes and clean energy cuts are the subject of scathing criticism in two NewJerseyNewsroom opinion pieces.
  • DRPA

  • Governor Christie also vetoed a DRPA contract with a firm connected with George Norcross’s brother.
  • School budgets

  • School officials are getting annoyed at the governor, who says he won’t tell them how much he is going to cut state aid until less than a week before they must produce their budget. Back in January, the legislature gave Christie permission to give his budget address later than the normal date.
  • NAACP accuses Senators

  • The NAACP has filed ethics complaints against Christopher Bateman and Ray Lesniak.
  • Freeholders

  • A bill in the Assembly proposes changing “Freeholders” into “Commissioners”.
  • NJ-12

  • A pollster for a republican candidate seeking his party’s nomination to run against Rush Holt in November says Rush Holt is beatable, but even his primary opponent is mocking the poll.
  • Special election

  • Republicans picked up a Boro Council seat in Park Ridge in a special election yesterday.
  • Joe DiVincenzo

  • Essex County Exec. Joe DiVincenzo issued an executive order banning certain county employees from engaging in political activity.
  • Local Police

  • Atlantic City may have to lay off 10 to 20 cops to balance the budget.
  • Meanwhile, police in Galloway Township agree to pay cuts to save 12 officers from getting the sack.
  • Kenneth Pringle

    Mayor Potato Chip won’t run for re-election in Belmar after dissing Staten Islanders and “guidos”.

    Hal Turner

  • The trial of shock jock and hate-peddler Hal Turner for threatening federal judges seems headed for a hung jury.
  • Guns

  • A Maplewood youth baseball league isn’t keen on letting a gun dealer become a shirt sponsor for one of its teams.
  • SPLC: Jersey ranks fourth in hate groups

    Virginia, the slogan goes, is for lovers. If a new report tracking the number of hate groups in America is to be believed, then New Jersey might be for haters.

    Yesterday, the Southern Poverty Law Center released its annual report on hate groups and extremism in America. The number of hate groups increased from 926 in 2008 to 932 in 2009. At the same time, the number and activity of nativist and so-called “patriot” groups increased sharply across the country.

    New Jersey was home to 44 hate groups in 2009, more than every other state but California, Texas and Florida. More than half of hate groups in New Jersey are classified as racist skinhead organizations. There are also 7 black separatist groups, 6 neo-nazi groups, 3 white nationalist groups, 2 Klan groups, 2 racist music labels and a Christian identity group. Most of the state’s hate groups are based in South Jersey. The state was also home to eight nativist groups and eight patriot movement groups.

    The state’s most famous racist, North Jersey resident and talk show host Hal Turner is currently on trial for threatening three very prominent appeals court judges.

    Perhaps the most active hate group in New Jersey is the League of American Patriots, founded in 2008 for “adult heterosexual men and women who are entirely of European Christian ancestry.” The group littered towns in North Jersey with racist anti-Obama fliers in the run-up to the 2008 election, and last March, they “brawled” with anti-fascist activists who had shown up to protest the group’s meeting at a Clifton library.

    The Police State: Will Gov. Christie take on Jersey cops?

    With state and local budgets in crisis and a new governor in office vowing to slash labor costs, public employees are undoubtedly worried about their salaries and benefits, if not their job security. Just days into his term, Governor Chris Christie’s transition team released a report suggesting that public employee wage freezes would apply to teachers. Last week, the State Senate passed a package of bills that would limit pensions for new government hires and require that public employees pay at least 1.5% of their salary for health insurance premiums.

    However, there is one group that looks like it will come through the crisis mostly unscathed: local police officers. Going after police officer compensation is not a politically popular move, and elected officials in both parties, especially at the state level, go to great lengths to avoid angering police unions. Even Governor Christie, who eagerly picks fights with the NJEA and generally terrorizes public employees, refuses to criticize the compensation of police officers in New Jersey. The first three items on his campaign’s “fact vs. fiction” page talk about how he will protect police and firefighter pensions, how Jon Corzine won’t, and how Christie will oppose any shift from defined benefit to defined contribution in police and firefighter pensions. The new governor has shown relatively little interest in reforming the binding arbitration system that League of Municipalities chairman William Dressell calls “the primary reason for the continual increase of the cost of government”.

    New Jersey’s police officers are the most well-paid in the nation. The average law enforcement officer in the state earns $79,790 per year. New Jersey police officers make 64% more than the average worker, which is second only to Nevada. New Jersey teachers, a favorite punching bag for the Republican Governor, make just 26% more than the average worker, which is equal to the national average. Even after we account for the above-average number of charter and private schools in the state, New Jersey teacher pay relative to the average worker still ranks safely outside of the top 10. Unlike law enforcement officers, New Jersey teachers must have a bachelors degree, which requires four years of time out of the workforce and (often) a significant amount of money to obtain. If, as Chris Christie seems to believe, New Jersey teachers are overpaid, then New Jersey cops are egregiously overpaid.

    The only way to get police salaries under control is to reform New Jersey’s binding arbitration law. Binding arbitration ensures that the interests of police and firefighters, who are not allowed to strike, are protected in labor negotiations. New Jersey’s binding arbitration system regularly produces results that are more than favorable to police officers. Last January, when job losses were piling up at record pace, an arbitrator awarded Closter cops 4% annual raises for four years. Police raises under the binding arbitration system have long exceeded increases the consumer price index and average earnings. Inflation-adjusted police salaries have skyrocketed ever since the binding arbitration law was passed over 30 years ago.

    Most towns are hesitant to bear the legal costs associated with arbitration when they face such a high risk of losing. Furthermore, small towns are ill-equipped to take on police unions who have much more experience in arbitration than they do. Municipalities often offer their local police officers generous annual pay increases in order to avoid binding arbitration. Frustration with the process has led local and county elected officials like Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo to call for abolishing the system altogether.

    For all the budget cutting measures he has demanded or enacted in his first month in office, Christie waited until last Wednesday to call for reform to the binding arbitration system. He has made no specific reform proposals. Shortly after his election, Christie told mayors in Ocean County who begged him to address binding arbitration that he was “willing to listen, but I can’t see eliminating [it],” before conceding that the state might need to “revisit what the exact rules are.” James Ahearn of The Record slammed Christie for backing away from arbitration reform, but Christie was never really behind it to begin with; during one of the gubernatorial debates, he insisted that he opposed significant changes to binding arbitration.

    Christie likes to talk about his intention to “govern like a one-termer” who is willing to take on powerful public-sector unions. He will continue to not only demand for cuts in pay and benefits to teachers and other public employees, but demonize their unions as well. But don’t expect him to do anything more than voice general support for arbitration reform. Christie is afraid to do anything that might hurt his reputation as a “law and order” governor, and he’s not terribly eager to annoy the police unions, either.

    Lame duck session lived up to its name

    State legislators are no doubt patting themselves on the back for passing the medical marijuana bill less than 24 hours before the end of the session. They can finally say that they passed one of the measures they had promised for the lame duck.

    The bill they passed isn’t exactly something to brag about, considering 13 states, including Montana and Alaska, already allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Its sponsors boast that it is the most restrictive medical marijuana law passed in any state. Doctors can prescribe marijuana only for a specific list of conditions; no “off-label” prescribing is allowed. New Jersey physicians may prescribe methamphetamine, cocaine, PCP, morphine and anabolic steroids off-label, but they can’t prescribe marijuana except where either political appointees to the department of health or the board of medical experts that is the New Jersey State Legislature deems it appropriate. The law also limits the amount that may be prescribed to two ounces per month and does not allow patients to grow their own marijuana. Canada’s national health department, by comparison, merely recommends that doctors prescribe not more than 5 grams per day, or about 5.3 ounces per month.

    The legislature deserves more censure for what they didn’t pass yesterday than credit for what they did. A bill which would allow illegal immigrants who were brought here without their consent by their parents and graduated from New Jersey high schools pay in-state tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities. Nine states, including such liberal hotbeds as Texas and Kansas, already do this, but leaders in the New Jersey Legislature couldn’t even be bothered to post the bill for a vote.

    State Senate Marriage Equality Liveblog

    Today the State Senate is scheduled to debate and vote on S1967, the marriage equality bill. Live video can be found here, now that the session is underway. The calendar is pretty packed today, with six nominations and over fifty bills scheduled for a vote.

    Final Tally of Marriage Equality bill in the NJ Senate

    tally

    Unless the NJ Supreme Court grows a spine, gay people must wait until at least 2014 to get married in New Jersey.

    The play-by-play of the Senate debate is below the fold.

    Rumors of its demise

    If recent media reports are to be believed, the marriage equality bill is unlikely to receive the 21 votes it needs for passage in the Senate come Thursday.

    Five Democrats are currently on record opposing the bill. Paul Sarlo and John Girgenti voted against the bill in committee, while Jeff Van Drew, Nick Sacco and Ron Rice have also recently announced that they will vote no. Media reports have several other Democrats as “undecided” or “decided but not telling.”

    If five Democrats vote no, then three Republican yes votes will be needed to pass the bill. Only one Republican, Bill Baroni, currently supports the marriage equality bill. Two potential supporters, Kip Bateman and Jen Beck, voted no in the Judiciary Committee, and another possible supporter, Diane Allen, is ill and reportedly will not make the vote. Sean Kean, while he voted no on civil unions, is apparently undecided. Tom Kean voted yes on civil unions but has stated his opposition to marriage equality in the past. Andrew Ciesla, who voted yes on civil unions and, in 1997, against banning “partial birth abortion,” might be in play. The other ten Senate Republicans are longshots.

    The situation may be bleak, but if we learn from the experiences of two states that have already passed marriage equality this year, we know that now is not the time to give up.

    Marriage Equality and 2011 State Senate Primaries

    While no lawmaker has ever lost an election for voting for marriage equality, some New Jersey Senators could find themselves out of office if they vote against it.

    John Girgenti, who represents the Paterson-based 35th district, voted no at yesterday’s Judiciary Committee hearing. Girgenti, who lives in suburban Hawthorne, may not even live in the district come 2011, especially if population trends allow for the creation of a majority-Hispanic district. If the map-drawers don’t remove him from office, then a primary challenge in this plurality Hispanic district might. Assemblywoman Nellie Pou, a Latina, is reportedly interested in moving up to the Senate, and Blue Jersey’s own Jeff Gardner has also been mentioned as a potential challenger.

    In the 15th district, Shirley Turner is rumored to be on the fence and considering voting against the bill for “political” reasons. What these reasons could be is beyond me. The 15th is arguably the most progressive district in the state. In 2008, Barack Obama won here with 76% of the vote—only in the Newark-based 28th and 29th did he do better. Earlier this year, the PCDO considered a resolution on marriage equality at one of its monthly meetings. Of the dozens of people in attendance, only one or two voted against the resolution. Turner, who has already annoyed organized labor with her opposition to paid family leave in 2008, can ill afford to alienate another important Democratic constituency. Bonnie Watson Coleman, who supported paid family leave and is a cosponsor of the marraige equality bill, would stand an excellent chance to beat Turner at a county conventon. Watson Coleman may be interested in moving up now that her bid for Assembly Speaker has fallen short.

    Liveblog II: Senate Judiciary Committee Marriage Equality Hearing

    UPDATE: The New Jersey State Senate Judiciary Committee approved the marriage equality bill by a vote of 7-6, with amendments. Two Democrats voted no, while one Republican, Bill Baroni, voted yes. A vote on final passage in the full Senate is expected to be held on Thursday.

    LISTEN LIVE

    The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony and vote today on the marriage equality bill. Six votes on nominations are also expected to take place. I’d like to offer a special welcome to our out-of-state readers today.

    For our in-state readers, tell your Senator to vote yes on marriage equality.

    On the New Jersey State Senate Judiciary Committee sit eight Democrats and five Republicans. They are:

    Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen): Chairman, opponent of marriage equality. Doesn’t have a law degree.

    John Girgenti (D-Passaic): Vice Chairman

    Nia Gill (D-Essex): Black Senator from Montclair, a diverse college town with a large gay population. Strong supporter of marriage equality

    Ray Lesniak (D-Union): Sharp, articulate lawmaker who led the fight to abolish the death penalty in New Jersey. Strong supporter of marriage equality.

    Nick Scutari (D-Union): a supporter of marriage equality.

    Bob Smith (D-Middlesex): a supporter of marriage equality. Smith represents a liberal district in Central NJ which includes New Brunswick and Piscataway.

    Brian Stack (D-Hudson): a supporter of marriage equality. Stack is also mayor of Union City, and an powerful Hudson County political boss.

    Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen): the sponsor of the bill and a progressive stalwart in the legislature.

    Bill Baroni (R-Mercer): very smart, well-liked Republican, and a supporter of marriage equality

    Christopher Bateman (R-Somerset)

    Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth): a wild card, and an up-and-comer in the Republican party.

    Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen): probably the most outspoken opponent on the committee. A dentist by trade; has no law degree.

    Joe Kyrillos (R-Monmouth): former R party chair, probably an opponent.

    Update (10:09) The bill passes 7-6 and is released from committee.  It will get a full vote on Thursday.

    Update (10:05): Sarlo talks about how his faith teaches him that marriage is a sacrament between a man and a women. Sarlo votes no.

    Update (10:02): Girgenti says supporting the measure would be violating his own conscience and the public conscience by voting yes. Girgenti votes no. Sarlo next

    Update (10:00): Gill: “I vote for equality in marriage because I believe in the constitution.”

    Update (9:51): Nia Gill talks about how religious freedoms are more than adequately protected in the bill. Gill says the bill is what the constitution requires. Gill then talks directly to Bateman: “I know you’re a skillful lawyer…[and] legislature. But there is nothing you can do to fix the Civil Union bill” short of enacting marriage equality.

    Update (9:49): Lesniak to Bateman “When I heard you talk about Pearl Harbor, I thought we had you. You know, there were many gay men and women who were killed in those wars.” Lesniak votes yes. Nia Gill…

    Update (9:48): Stack: “I proudly vote yes on this wonderful civil rights legislation.” Scutari also votes yes. Lesniak now…

    Update (9:44) Loretta Weinberg is now speaking. She votes yes.

    Update (9:39) First four Republicans vote no. Baroni returns to the theme of his opening remarks, that the debate is about balance. He concludes “Equality. Equal Treatment at law. That is not too much to ask….Tonight, I will be the first legislator in the history state of New Jersey to say the following. On the question of marriage equality, I vote yes.” The committeeroom erupts in applause, no doubt a standing ovation, which lasts for around half a minute.

    Update (9:35) Vote on moving the bill

    Kyrillos: No

    Cardinale: No

    Beck: No

    Bateman says Civil Unions won’t work, but isn’t willing to “change the definition of marriage.” No

    Update (9:32) …I thought he was wrapping it up, but now he’s carrying on about how Governor Corzine is not morally entitled to sign important bills because he lost the election.

    Update (9:30) Unlike witnesses, Senators are not limited in the time they can speak. Fortunately for everyone, Cardinale has the longest commute home of anyone on the panel. I don’t think he’ll go on too long. Cardinale is worried about the “unintended consequences” of the bill. He believes that the word “marriage” will encourage more people to choose to be gay, and that’s why he’s voting no.

    Update (9:23) A motion to move the bill is made, but Cardinale wants to have a discussion before the vote. Cardinale says that calling Civil Unions “Domestic Partnerships” would have fixed the problems with the civil union bill. Was he listening to the seven hours of testimony?

    Update (9:16) They return to Senator Baroni’s amendment to protect religious societies. Senator Weinberg accepts the amendments as friendly and moves the amendment. And she seconds it. Cardinale likes the amendment but wants to go further and give individuals license to discriminate against gay couples, but he gets nowhere. The amendment is approved unanimously.

    Update (9:15) Roll call to end debate. Passes and debate has been concluded.  No further testimony.  Senator Sarlo thanks everyone for their patience and their respect of one another.

    Update (9:13) Senator Sarlo says it appears there are still 25 opposed and 70 in favor waiting to testify. Sarlo asks if they feel they are compelled to testify and will have something new to offer the debate.  He says we’ve heard the stories and understand the frustration and the pain. Senator Lesniak says he was going to offer Senator Cardinale the “good good.”  He says they still have to debate the bill, vote on the bill and hopefully lobby legislators to vote on the bill Thursday. He seconds the chairman’s request. Senator Cardinale says it’s almost impossible for anyone to offer anything that hasn’t been said.  He thinks the chair has been patient. He says he is quite sure the bill is going to be released and he’d go along with cutting off debate.  I couldn’t make out what Senator Weinberg said.

    Update (9:08) Deborah Jacobs from the NJ ACLU talks about the Lewis decisions.  Talks about how civil unions are not giving equal rights. She then talks about student bullying and the restriction of free speech fears.  She says the ACLU will represent Mr. Tamicki and stand up for for him. She says In this country we put our hand on the bible and swear to uphold the constitution, not put our hand on the constitution and swear to uphold the bible.

    Update (9:05) Harriet Bernstein talks about why the word marriage is so important.  It’s about the right to privacy and the protection of that right for all gay and lesbian families. Talks about how she has to out herself every time she fills out a form that asks married or single.

    Update (8:58) A supporter from Mount Laurel tells the committee “all I want is a normal life.”

    Update (8:54) Margaret Maloney speaks next. She has a hospital horror story…apparently someone changed “civil union partner” to “friend” on one of her documents. “The secondary status of civil union is confusing disruptive and serves no useful purpose, and at times it can interfere with running a business.”

    Update (8:51): Eileen Dellavole who lives with her partner in Brick, who’s been receiving texts from her daugther all day.

    Update (8:50): Heidi Ehman tells her family’s a heart-wrenching story.

    Update (8:41): It seems like we are going through the list of people who were absent the first time they were called. Next up is Tom Wyka, the Democratic candidate in NJ-11 in 2006 and 2008, and his wife Betty. Wyka says that for the opponents of the bill, it’s about fear.

    Liveblog: Senate Judiciary Committe Marriage Equality Hearing

    The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony and vote today on the marriage equality bill. Six votes on nominations are also expected to take place. I’d like to offer a special welcome to our out-of-state readers today.

    On the New Jersey State Senate Judiciary Committee sit eight Democrats and five Republicans. They are:

    Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen): Chairman, opponent of marriage equality. Doesn’t have a law degree.

    John Girgenti (D-Passaic): Vice Chairman

    Nia Gill (D-Essex): Black Senator from Montclair, a diverse college town with a large gay population. Strong supporter of marriage equality

    Ray Lesniak (D-Union): Sharp, articulate lawmaker who led the fight to abolish the death penalty in New Jersey. Strong supporter of marriage equality.

    Nick Scutari (D-Union): a supporter of marriage equality.

    Bob Smith (D-Middlesex): a supporter of marriage equality. Smith represents a liberal district in Central NJ which includes New Brunswick and Piscataway.

    Brian Stack (D-Hudson): a supporter of marriage equality. Stack is also mayor of Union City, and an powerful Hudson County political boss.

    Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen): the sponsor of the bill and a progressive stalwart in the legislature.

    Bill Baroni (R-Mercer): very smart, well-liked Republican, and a supporter of marriage equality

    Christopher Bateman (R-Somerset)

    Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth): a wild card, and an up-and-comer in the Republican party.

    Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen): probably the most outspoken opponent on the committee. A dentist by trade; has no law degree.

    Joe Kyrillos (R-Monmouth): former R party chair, probably an opponent.

    New thread!

    Update (5:52): Another ecclesiastical panel is convened, and Sarlo announces they will be strictly held to the two minute rule. Mark Beckwith of the Episcopal Archdiocese of Newark supports marriage equality. Beckwith reminds the audience that men used to own the women to which they were married. His counterpart in the diocese of New Jersey (south & central jersey) also declares his support for the bill.

    Update (5:49): Weinberg: “Has Judaism survived the three years of the civil union law?” The rabbi tells her she doesn’t understand the weight of her decision.

    Update (5:45): Loretta Weinberg asks him if there is slavery in the Torah. After he responds, she says, “I’ve argued with lawyers without being a lawyer, I’m going to argue with a Rabbi without being a Rabbi.” Weinberg: “I respect your right to do what you want in your synagogues, and that’s why I joined the synagogue to which I belong.”

    Update (5:40): A rabbi from Jackson Township, who would do well to expand his repertoire of humor beyond self-deprecating Jewish jokes, believes that love between gay people is worth less than love between love between a married couple. He foolishly thinks his ability to speak against gay people in his church will be restricted by hate crime laws. Sarlo interrupts him, saying that the amednment will protect your synagogue.

    Update (5:33): Three more witnesses. One of them, a Josh P., is Chariman of an Orthodox Jewish organization. He belts out his testimony in a loud monotone which reminds me of weaker opponents in my high school debate days. A senator tells him that the Baroni amendment will address some of his concerns about religious organizations being forced to recognize marriages. Someone from the Yeshiva of Lakewood offers his view of the Torah, saying that gays act against nature and will damage the creation.

    Update (5:30): Loretta Weinberg emphasizes that this process has not been rushed, as Lewis v. Harris was handed down three years ago. Lesniak adds that Vermont had ten years and they finally determined civil unions still didn’t work.

    Update (5:25): Cardinale and Gill have an exchange that lasts several minutes. Cardinale’s mic is still turned off.

    Update (5:20): Senators Bateman and Gill question Edish next. Gill compares Cardinale’s advocacy for a loophole-free civil union law to the “separate but equal” of Jim Crow. Gill says we don’t need to wait any longer to see that rights are being denied. Cardinale is saying something, but his mic is turned off.

    Update (5:15): Cardinale asks if everyone from the state of New Jersey was there when civil unions were passed, and gives a dissertation on the meaning of the word “all” that would put Bill Clinton to shame. Then he shifts topics and asks if the Supreme Court would find polygamy legal. Sarlo puts an end to a rancorous round of questioning.

    Update (5:10): As Cardinale begins his questions, an male voice can be overheard saying “here we go”. Cardinale gets cranky with the Edish, telling him not to repeat his testimony. Edish at one point reminds him that he’s the lawyer and Cardinale’s the dentist. Cardinale asks if there’s any way to satisfy Lewis v Harris without marriage equality, and he says in so many words that because the failure of civil unions, there isn’t. Cardinale’s line of question brings him to compare discriminating against a partner in a civil union couple to murder. Perhaps this is a step in the right direction? Yeah right.

    Update (5:05): Nia Gill singles out pensions and healthcare as the two areas where civil unions have been most inadequate. “[In these areas] it has been separate, and very very unequal.”