Author Archive: Bill Orr

About Bill Orr

University of Virginia Masters in English. Have lived in Argentina, Panama, Delaware, Virginia, California, NYC, and New Jersey for the last 25 years. Former editor and manager at McGraw-Hill, former President of Gay Activist Alliance of NJ, founder of NJ ActUp, and North Jersey Community Research Initiative (NJCRI) in Newark.

A Tale of Two Committees

Today at the Senate Education Committee hearing Garden State Equality marshalled attendees and speakers to an unusual legislative event – one devoid of naysayers – whereas at the Senate Budget Committee hearing the naysayers were all too present.

In this morning’s hearing on the Anti-bullying Bill (S2392) all were in agreement that we need to change the culture of kids, that names can hurt you, and that even some teachers can callously promote or ignore bullying. One young speaker said, “It started in elementary school. People were so cruel. I almost killed myself.”  A mother spoke movingly about her son who did commit suicide. Other speakers included a lesbian, a transgender person, and survivors of bullying – all recounting very personal, isolating, frightening, devastating experiences. Seldom do we have a bill which costs almost nothing and yet which everyone agreed can do so much good. The bill was unanimously approved. Later in the day the Assembly unanimously approved the companion bill (A3466).  

It was something of a culture shock to go next to the Budget Committee hearing where speakers were saying that Planned Parenthood promotes promiscuity, engages in fraud, and that any funds given to them frees up other monies to perform more abortions. The bill under review (S2393) would require our recalcitrant governor to file an application for expansion of Medicaid coverage for women’s health and family planning services for individuals with incomes from 133% to up to 200% of the poverty level. These funds, which can not be used for abortion, are for a wide variety of medical services which were contemplated in the very State budget which Republicans avidly supported. That did not stop Republicans from voting against the bill, but with a majority of Democrats on the committee and Senator Weinberg testifying in support, the bill was approved. It had already been approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee (A3273).

On other matters the Senate Budget Committee postponed a hearing on the bill (S2293) to transfer $5 million unexpended funds to Women’s Health and Family Planning, for which the identical Assembly Bill (A3274) has already gained approval. However, it did approve a bill (S2214) which restores income eligibility level for AIDS Drug Distribution Program to 500% of the federal poverty level. –  All in all, a very good day for two committees in Trenton.

A Tale of Two Committees

Today at the Senate Education Committee hearing Garden State Equality marshalled attendees and speakers to an unusual legislative event – one devoid of naysayers – whereas at the Senate Budget Committee hearing the naysayers were all too present.

In this morning’s hearing on the Anti-bullying Bill (S2392) all were in agreement that we need to change the culture of kids, that names can hurt you, and that even some teachers can callously promote or ignore bullying. One young speaker said, “It started in elementary school. People were so cruel. I almost killed myself.”  A mother spoke movingly about her son who did commit suicide. Other speakers included a lesbian, a transgender person, and survivors of bullying – all recounting very personal, isolating, frightening, devastating experiences. Seldom do we have a bill which costs almost nothing and yet which everyone agreed can do so much good. It was unanimously approved. In a later hearing the Assembly unanimously passed the companion bill (A3466).

It was something of a culture shock to go next to the Budget Committee hearing where speakers were saying that Planned Parenthood promotes promiscuity, engages in fraud, and that any funds given to them frees up other monies to perform more abortions. The bill under review (S2393) would require the State to apply to the federal government for an expansion of Medicaid coverage to allow women earning between 133 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level  to receive family planning services under the Medicaid program. NJ would receive $9 in federal reimbursement for every additional $1 the state spends. These funds, which can not be used for abortion, are for a wide variety of medical services which were contemplated in the very State budget which Republicans avidly supported. That did not stop Republicans from voting against the bill, but with a majority of Democrats on the committee and Senator Weinberg testifying in support, the bill was approved. It had already been approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee (A3273).

On other matters the Senate Budget Committee postponed a hearing on the bill (S2293) to transfer $5 million unexpended funds to Women’s Health and Family Planning, for which the identical Assembly Bill (A3274) has already gained approval. However, it did approve a bill (S2214) which restores income eligibility level for AIDS Drug Distribution Program to 500% of the federal poverty level. –  All in all, a very good day for two committees in Trenton.

Some of My Favorite Bills

Polls tell us that New Jerseyans focus on our governor not the legislature. Too bad. A number of important bills are wending their way through the legislature – many with a key hearing on Monday. Below is the status of each bill and how legislators voted in committee. You can attend these meetings or listen live.

  • Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act

    S2392 (Sen. Education Committee) – 28 bipartisan sponsors. Hearing Scheduled: Monday, Nov. 15 10:00 AM – Room 6 Annex

    A3466 (Ass. Education Committee) – 46 bipartisan sponsors. Hearing scheduled: Monday, Nov. 15 2:00 PM – Room 11 Annex

  • Medicinal Marijuana: Determines that draft proposed medicinal marijuana program rules are inconsistent with legislative intent.

    SCR130 (Sen. Health Committee) Yes: Weinberg, Madden, Whelan, Vitale, Gordon, Rice; No: S.Kean; Not Voting: Goodwin, Allen, Singer.

    Referred to Sen. Judiciary Co. Hearing scheduled: Monday, Nov. 15 2:00 PM – Room 4 Annex

    ACR151(Ass. Regulatory Oversight Committee): Yes: Quijano, Coughlin, Caputo, Polistina, Casagrande. No further hearing scheduled.

  • Restores income eligibility level for AIDS Drug Distribution Program to 500% of the federal poverty level.

    S2214 (Sen. Health Committee) Yes: Weinberg, Madden, Whelan, Vitale, Gordon, Rice; No: S. Kean, Goodwin, Singer; Abstain: Allen  

    Referred to Sen Budget Committee – Hearing scheduled: Monday Nov. 15 11:30 AM – Room 4 Annex

    A3286 (Ass. Health Committee) – Sponsors: Riley and Coughlin. No committee vote yet scheduled.

  • Amends Fiscal Year 2011 annual appropriations act to require filing of application for expansion of Medicaid coverage for family planning services.

    S2393 (Sen. Budget Committee) Sponsors: Weinberg and Sarlo. Hearing scheduled: Monday Nov. 15 11:30 AM – Room 4 Annex

    A3273 (Ass. Appropriations Committee) Yes: Pou, Greenwald, Stender, Conaway, McKeon, Barnes, Vainieri Huttle; No: DiMaio, Peterson, Addiego, Thompson; Not Voting: Chivukula

  • Transfers $5,000,000 of unexpended balance from Purchase of Service for Inmates Incarcerated in County Penal Facilities … and appropriates that amount for Women’s Health and Family Planning Services.

    A3274 (Ass. Appropriations Committee) Yes: Pou, Greewald, Stender, Conaway, McKeon, Barnes, Vainieri Huttle; No: Addiego, Thompson, DiMaio, Peterson; Not Voting: Chivukula

    S2293 (Sen. Budget Committee) Sponsors: Weinberg, Cunningham, Gill, Gordon. No vote yet scheduled

  • Requires certain issue advocacy organizations to register with ELEC and disclose contribution and independent expenditure information.

    S2379 (Sen. State Government Committee) Sponsors: Buono  and Weinberg. No vote  scheduled

    A3497 Sponsors Vainieri-Huttle and Wagner – recently introduced but not yet referred to a committee.

     

  • War … What Is It Good For?

    As we finish honoring veterans today, let’s remember that a large number of them are from the Vietnam War. The music they created and listened to has messages for us today.

    The eastern world, it is exploding

    Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’.

    You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’

    You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’

    And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’

    Barry McGuire: Eve of Destruction

    We gotta get out of this place

    If it’s the last thing we ever do

    We gotta get out of this place

    Cause girl, there’s a better life for me and you

    Animal, Eric Burdon We Gotta Get out of this place

    War h’uh

    Yeah!

    What is it good for?

    Absolutely nothin’

    Star: War

    Mine eyes have seen the story of the winning of the war

    It is published every afternoon a little after four

    They put it in the briefing sheets and then they tell us more

    And the truth goes sliding by.

    –  unidentified soldier

    All from Next Stop Is Vietnam – A War In Song  (More than 330 titles spread across 13 discs) Published: November 11, 2010 by David C. Barnett

    Property Taxes: Crossing the Finish Line

    “The driver of property taxes [is] public sector salaries. Until you find a definitive way to control public sector salary growth, you will not control property taxes. That’s it.”  – Governor Christie

    As usual Governor Christie oversimplifies and then ends his statement with his supposedly conclusive, seal-the-deal “That’s it.” Public sector salaries are indeed key. However, an example of another way to lessen their impact is through sharing services which reduces duplicative salaries, as well as costs for equipment, space, and indirect expenses. The legislature must do more to facilitate this process.

    Imposing a fixed, mandatory cap on salary increases of public sector employees makes the task simpler for mayors and county executives. However, it ends the important collective bargaining process which has brought an improved standard of living for so many.  A mandated cap which ignores costs of living increases, competitive salary rates in the free market, productivity gains, and the relative value of different job categories leads to a dysfunctional, disintegrating system.

    Although the issues regarding property tax will require ongoing review and further action, we are currently in a race against time. With an existing mandatory cap on property tax increases starting in January, time is running out for the hesitant legislature and the pushy governor. No resolution would leave local governments in chaos and harm the governor and the legislature in the minds of the public.  A compromise between the two would provide a level of stability and allow each to claim some credit. With a bullying, overconfident governor in the foreground, only strong and determined leadership from the Senate and Assembly can assure us successfully crossing the finish line.  

    This is an open thread … What specific positions should the legislature adhere to?

    Quinnipiac Poll

    New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie gets decent grades from voters as he nears the end of his first year in office, with a 51 – 38 percent approval rating, higher than President Barack Obama or any other statewide leader, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

    Christie’s approval rating remains unchanged from Q’s August poll and has increased from a 44% rating in June. With a current 51% approval rating, in contrast to a 46% rating for President Obama, Christie might well feel emboldened to provide us with more of the same. However, there are some chinks in his armor.

    more findings below the fold.

    Christie on Meet the Press

    Governor Christie appeared this morning on Meet the Press. Some of you may care less. Others may have wanted to learn what he had to say but were unable to do so because local coverage of the NYC Marathon preempted it. Below are excerpts from NBC News.

    DAVID GREGORY: Shermanesque statement, you’re not running in 2012?

    Governor Christie: Absolutely

    GREGORY: You wouldn’t be on– a ticket at all– as V.P.?

    CHRISTIE: Can you see me as somebody’s who’s a Vice President, David?  After– after that question about Governor Wrecking Ball?  I would feel bad for that poor man or woman… 

    GREGORY: So, fair at least to say the door is open beyond 2012?

    CHRISTIE: I’m gonna need a job, David, after 2013, you know?  And so, whether it’s gonna be being governor of New Jersey or doing something else, I have four kids between seven and 17.  I’m working the rest of my life anyway.  So, always gotta be doing something, David.  So, maybe it’ll be that.  Who knows?

    Other comments from Christie:

    “I think Delaware was a missed opportunity to have a really good United States Senator in Mike Castle.  And that’s why I endorsed him in the primary.”

    “It’s put up or shut up time for our party.  You know, we lost our way last decade, David, we did.  And the people expect us to do better.  And if the Republican Party wants to come back, they’re gonna have to do what they said they were gonna do…”

    “We made real hard decisions.  And I cut some programs that I would have liked to have kept.  But we’re broke.  We don’t have the money anymore.  And so, I hope that what these governors– Republicans and Democrats will show Washington is, you can do this and you have to do it.”

    On the Tea Party: “Net positive.  Listen, the core that drives the Tea Party, in my view, are those four principles, I talked about before.  Less spending, smaller government, and less intrusive government.  Lower regulation and lower taxes.  And when Republicans are at their best, those are our core principles.  And so, I think that at bottom, it’s a positive influence.” 

    Will he stick to his “Shermanesque” statement? Will the national media pay less attention to him now? Does he really think the Tea Party is a positive influence? What are your reactions to his comments?

     

    Pot & Drug Wars

    “The second battle over medi-pot in New Jersey has begun. The Commissioner of Health drafted rules which provide clinical standards and will prevent many of the abuses we have seen in other states. This has displeased the pro-marijuana crowd. They want loose standards so they can abuse the system.” – email message from David Evans, Advisor to Drug Free America Foundation.

    David Evans, a former NJ State employee in addiction services, has argued against syringe exchange, legalization of marijuana and more recently NJ’s compassionate use of medicinal marijuana. For wiser information on these matters I suggest you go to the Drug Policy Alliance NJ.

    Discredited voices like that of Evans gain currency in a conservative political environment more comfortable in using laws, police and prisons than in providing harm reduction (syringe exchange), drug treatment, alternative court sentences, and compassionate use of marijuana. In NJ and throughout the US, syringe exchange and drug courts have proven to be worthwhile. Prevention and treatment programs are gaining in effectiveness but remain underfunded. The recent failure of the California marijuana referendum is a moot point as marijuana is about as easily available as alcohol and cigarettes. The medical evidence for medicinal marijuana was established in the 1990’s through NIH research and is now the law in 14 states.

    In spite of David Evans’ claims, our Health Department’s  regulations do not provide sound “clinical standards” as the level of thc permitted is too low for palliative use, the list of qualifying illnesses is too narrow, and the failure to allow cannabis sold in food form is unfair for those whose illnesses do not allow them to inhale it. Among what he considers are abuses is having dispensaries near schools, but in Newark for example the only area not within 1,000 feet of a school is the airport. Evans also calls for high fees – DOH plans to charge organizations $20,000 per year – but such fees are too high for non-profits.  

    Inextricably medicinal marijuana in the minds of its opponents becomes related to their broader war against drugs. However, people today who seek to make cannabis available on a compassionate basis are not looking to abuse the system but to help people in need. The Health Department has an opportunity to create a successful medical program, but they must revise their regulations.  And you can help by contacting committee members or attending or testifying on Monday at the Senate Health Committee Hearing (1:00 PM – bill: SCR130) and the Assembly Regulatory Oversight Committee Hearing (2:00 PM – bill: ACR 151).

    “Public Employees Be Damned”

    “Since January 2008, when the worst recession since the Great Depression began, New Jersey has lost 269,000 jobs. About 45,000 jobs disappeared from last May through September alone, negating signs of a potential economic turnaround in the early spring. New Jersey has lost 42,400 public sector jobs since May, an important reason why the state’s economy has been “just inching along.” – Nancy Mantell, Director of the Rutgers Economic Advisory Service

    According to the NJ Department of Labor, public sector employment fell during September by 10,800 jobs. In a news conference Wednesday Christie said the state has sent layoff notices to some additional 1,200 state workers. Countless more public sectors jobs are being cut at county and municipal levels. Ending work on the ARC tunnel will futher reduce both public and private sector jobs.

    So what is Governor Christie’s solution to the unemployment problem? In February he proposed cutting unemployment benefits, which only reduces the costs to the state. More recently he said “I would extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone at least for a couple of years.” In the most telling remark Christie said yesterday, “reducing public employee costs were a key to controlling property taxes and helping the private sector.”

    In effect, Christie’s message on unemployment is: “Public employees be dammed. They are an obstacle to our salvation which can only be achieved through the private sector.” He scoffs at the essential services that public employees provide, and he ignores the fact that the loss of their jobs is “an important reason why the state’s economy has been just inching along.” Perhaps he even relishes our weak economy because he thinks it justifies his continued actions to reduce the size of government. If so he is succeeding in turning what might have been a virtuous economic cycle into a vicious cycle as his solution to one problem creates a chain of problems, each making it more difficult to solve the original one. In the process he impoverishes our state and its residents.  

    No Way … Yes Way

    While we celebrate having avoided the Republican deluge in other states, let’s not forget that the NJ landscape is now more slippery than before. The unexpected can happen: “No Way” can become “Yes Way.” We better get our ass in gear for 2011 and 2012.

  • Jon Runyan will win … but in spite of “late property tax payments, two lawsuits, a tax lien, 1995 arrest for driving under the influence, spotty voting history and a farmland tax break,” he does.
  • All Five incumbent Bergen Democrats will lose … How the mighty have fallen!
  • Pallone will win with only 11 points Two years ago he won with 35 points.
  • Holt will win with only 7 pointsTwo years ago he won with 28 points.
  • All four Hunterdon Co. Democrats will lose … but they do.
  • Rand Paul, Mark Rubio, and Nikki Haley will win and Anna Little will garner 44% of the vote and U. S. exit polls suggested that more than one in 10 voters identified themselves as members of the Tea Party movementThe Tea Party only got started in early 2009.
  • Democrats will lose at least 60 seats in House of Representatives … but they do.