Tag Archive: NJ Assembly

Bail Reform: A Better Course of Justice Needed Now

There has been broad agreement among Democrats and Republicans for years that our bail system requires reform – but less agreement on the precise changes to be enacted. After back-and-forth discussions legislators are nearing an agreement on two bills, but unresolved issues remain which might derail the reform. Also time is running out as one bill calls for a constitutional amendment to be placed on November’s ballot requiring a 60% legislative majority vote by August 4. The Senate appears poised to meet the deadline, but the Assembly less so.

Assuring that the most dangerous criminals have less access to bail and that the least dangerous be provided alternatives are important goals. There is suspicion the bail industry is trying to block the bills. Denying bail to some and providing alternatives to others reduces the income of bail bondsmen.

The paramount issue, nonetheless, is fairness, particularly for those who spend ten months or more in jail on minor offenses because they cannot afford bail. NJ Chief Justice Stuart Rabner has said that the system ensnares the poor unfairly, resulting in unnecessary incarceration and a higher-frequency of guilty pleas. The legislature should quickly resolve their differences and pass these two bills now.  

NJ State Legislature Goes after Rutgers Governance again, Ignores State Mismanagement

The State Legislature is taking another swing at the Rutgers University governance structures after failing to gift Rutgers-Camden to Rowan University in 2012 and failing to eliminate the Rutgers Board of Trustees in last year’s legislative session.

S1860 and A3046 Sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto respectively, would increase the number of political appointees on the Rutgers Board of Governors (the BOG) from 15 to 19, effectively diluting the Board of Trustees voting rights by creating a 12-7 majority of political appointees on the Rutgers BOG. The Rutgers BOG has already expanded from 11 to 15 members as part of the UMDNJ merger and a further expansion to 19 members would create a very unwieldy operating board sitting on top of a complex governance structure that was made even more complex by the “compromises” arising from the recent machinations surrounding the proposed give-away of Rutgers-Camden to Rowan and the Rowan-Cooper Medical school.

This is simply a bad bill. It creates more complexity and an unwieldy operating board. If the goal is to add medical and biomedical expertise to the BOG (Something the Rutgers Board of Trustees has already done with their own appointments to the BOG following the merger with UMDNJ), simply require that a certain number of gubernatorial appointments have a medical, pharma, or biomedical background.  Starting July 1st, there are three BOG vacancies that the Governor can fill with candidates from a medical or biomedical background. These are part of the normal governance rotation and do not require any special legislation or changes in the existing governance structure.

The Rutgers BOG oversees Rutgers $3.6 billion dollar annual budget, appoints the president and provides oversight on key executive, leadership and reputational strategies and initiatives.  They are the board that oversees the people and policies that govern Rutgers operations on a day to day basis, while the Rutgers Board of Trustees has primary responsibility for all the assets and property that existed prior to our 1956 contract with the state to serve as New Jersey’s public university.

Rather than focusing on a pattern and record of continual state mismanagement under Governor Christie — the various NJ Transit debacles, a track record of missing deadlines and losing out on Federal dollars across various state agencies, the sacrifice of NJ’s Equine Industry for Atlantic City casino interests, failed economic development initiatives such as the failure to leverage Fort Monmouth’s assets to create new high tech and university innovation clusters, to name just a few — Democratic leadership in the state legislature seems intent on fixing a system that isn’t broken and that has served the state well under both Democratic and Republican leadership since 1956 when Rutgers — founded in 1766 by Royal Charter — entered into a contract with the State of New Jersey to serve as New Jersey’s State University.

The Rutgers Act of 1956 does not allow for changes to Rutgers governance and organizational structures without the consent of the Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees has fiduciary responsibility for the university’s assets and property dating back to 1766 and provides a direct link with Rutgers colonial heritage. Rutgers is one of only 9 colleges or universities founded before the American Revolution, and along with William and Mary, one of two public institutions of higher education with a colonial heritage. The 1956 Act was structured to keep this heritage intact and to keep Rutgers protected from political interference and outright land grabs.

After two failed attempts at politicizing higher education at Rutgers, you would think New Jersey’s State Democratic Leadership would have learned their lesson by now and would focus on the real issues of stalled economic development, high unemployment, high property taxes, unsustainable traffic congestion, a decaying transit infrastructure and threats to our watersheds in the Highlands of North Jersey and the Pinelands of South Jersey.  

What’s Happening Today Thu. 01/16/2014

Today attention is drawn to the Senate and Assembly as their new session begins and they establish Bridgegate panels. The Assembly has formed a committe with subpoena power consisting of eight Democrats and four Republicans chaired by Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). Its legal counsel will be former U. S. Attorney Reis Schar who prosecuted the case against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. In the meantime Senate President Sweeney has announced the Senate will create its own separate panel, which appears duplicative of time, staff, resources and issues.

It might be more worthwhile to have each committee address separate matters – a two track inquiry. Much attention has been focused on the Christie administration, but equally important (and maybe more so in the long run) is the Port Authority administration which shares culpability. Its staff (naively) implemented the lane closures and did not inform the proper authorities. It’s PR department maintained “radio silence.” Some of its top executives were not sharing information. People appear to have violated procedures, and the result may well be in violation of federal and state laws. The performance of the agency in Bridgegate only highlights broader concerns regarding its overall performance.

  • Track 1 (Senate): The Port Authority: Investigate its exorbitant toll increases, wisdom/fairness of its investments in NJ, its cover up, its PR departrment and others ignoring requests for information from citizens, legislators and the press, its excessive number of political appointees, appointees from different sides of the Hudson not working well together, “culture of fear” indicated by key PA managers, role  and membership of the Board of Commissioners, procedures for  conducting lane closures and/or traffic studies, and its management structure (Why did Executive Director Patrick Foye say he could not fire Christie appointee Deputy Director Bill Baroni?  And what has to be done to ensure the procedures there work as they should?). Most of these issues are not criminal in nature but get to the heart of what appears to be a dysfunctional agency that needs significant reforms – and one which receives billions of dollars from NJ residents. This investigation would be more far-ranging than the efforts of U. S. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.)

  • Track 2 (Assembly): Bridgegate/NJ: Investigation of Gov. Christie, his Executive Office members (and some of their reportees), political appointees, election campaign officials and anyone else who appears involved in planning, implementing or covering up Bridgegate. Find out the who, when, how, why and what in this debacle. Some of this effort may uncover criminal and impeachable activities.

    To his credit NY appointee Executive Director Patrick Foye brought the lane closures to an end in September. He was right on point when his Deputy Bill Baroni, in an e-mail said, “There can be no public discourse,” and Foye responded, “Bill that’s precisely the problem, there has been no public discourse on this.” Foye further vowed, “I will get to the bottom of this abusive decision which violated everything this agency stands for.” Nonetheless four months later we have not heard what he discovered. Instead, The office of U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman (NJ) announced that it had opened a preliminary inquiry after a referral from the inspector general at the Port Authority.  

    Read about the “Hall of Infamy,” Rep. Pascrell’s new bill, and the Governor’s schedule today below the fold.

  • Assembly goes with special committee to investigate Christie’s GWB scandal – and Senate steps up

    The NJ Assembly is broadening its investigation of Gov. Christie’s still-unfolding George Washington Bridge scandal, empaneling a special investigatory committee to now include appointed members with legal and investigatory backgrounds, and people representing Fort Lee and the surrounding towns affected by Septembers sudden GWB lane closures and 5-day traffic chaos. A special counsel will also be assigned to the committee.

    But over in the Legislature’s upper house, Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg wants to enlarge the Senate’s role. Weinberg represents Fort Lee, attends Port Authority Commission meetings and has questioned the silence from NJ members who have been silent on what they knew. She is calling for a joint legislative committee to begin with the new session. Weinberg, the legislature’s expert on government transparency laws, first proposed the use of subpoenas to investigate the scandal. She and Wisniewski have become the legislature’s two most visible advocates of full investigation, often appearing side-by-side talking to the press. She says Wiz’ committee was in the best position to take the early lead in subpoenaing documents, and says both she and Senate President Steve Sweeney back Wisniewski’s hearings.  

    What’s Happening Today Mon. 01/06/2014

    Give Him Credit for Persistence: Conservative, Tea Party Republican Steve Lonegan announced last week his eighth political campaign – a hefty number of efforts with a history of only three wins. Now with his last victory eleven years ago this Bergen County Don Quijote moves his quest southward to Burlington, Camden, and Ocean Counties. A quick Wikipedia trip down memory lane:

  • 1995 Elected Mayor of Bogota.

  • 1998 Ran unsuccessfully for Congress (9th CD against Steve Rothman).

  • 1999 Re-elected Mayor of Bogota.

  • 2003 Re-elected Mayor of Bogota.

  • 2005 Ran in a gubernatorial primary finishing 4th.

  • 2009 Ran in a primary against Christie and gained 42% of the vote.

  • 2013 Lost the U.S. Senate Special election by over 10 points to Cory Booker.

  • 2014 Plans to run in CD 3 primary for post vacated by Rep. Runyan.

    During this period he filed an unsuccessful public referendum in Bogota to make English the official language for the municipality. He spent six years as NJ State Director of the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. He also found time to oppose family paid leave, affordable housing mandates, and a gas tax increase.

    During his Senatorial run with little financial or party support he put up a scrappy campaign and garnered substantial press attention. His consistent, clear ideology was both his strength and his weakness. Conservatives and some libertarians loved it, but the other 54% did not buy it.

    With a record of never having won an election higher than the mayoralty, an inflexible personality, devoid of charisma, and an arch-conservative philosophy he now continues his dream against the windmill of CD 3. This is a district which leans Republican (Ocean County), but of its last four Representatives two were Democrats. If he follows his path of pro-extremism and anti-moderation and survives a primary he will once again learn that his is the impossible dream – one not held by the majority of voters. But the fight for the other dream – an “American Dream” held by Democrats – will not be easy. This man supports some repugnant positions, but he sure is persistent and can’t be easily dismissed.

    Christie is correct when he complained recently that State Supreme Court judges “are not accountable to anyone.” However, that is the way it is supposed to be. They are accountable to the N. J. and U.S. constitutions. If the writers of both documents had wanted them accountable to people, they would have placed them in elections. Instead the jurists are provided with long terms to free them from political pressure. They are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, but once in office they are not supposed to be accountable to a governor (which Christie would like) nor a party, nor voters. Relax Gov. Christie and stop your meddling with tenure, your efforts to “pack” the Court, and your anger when their votes don’t go your way. The system is working just fine.  

    Today: Governor Christie’s ceremonial signing of the Dream Act has been rescheduled for a day later this week. The Assembly will hold a voting session at 1:00pm with some sixty bills on the list. The Senate Budget and Appropriations committee meets at 10:00AM to review 27 bills including one (S2860) which requires municipal police vehicles primarily used for traffic stops be equipped with a mobile video recording system camera. For more information about today’s legislative activities go here.

  • Hetty Rosenstein Talks about Christie’s Attack on Civil Service

    One area in which Chris Christie excels is in making unilateral decisions without considering the co-equal legislature. And for the most part, these decisions are not in accord with the wishes or best interests of most New Jerseyans, but rather cold, calculated moves to satisfy his right wing supporters and his financial benefactors.

    He did this with the ARC Tunnel cancellation, with Marriage Equality, with lottery privatization, and with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative withdrawal.

    Now, the Governor is doing it again. This time eviscerating the protections offered to middle class workers under the state’s civil service system. His administration is implementing some draconian measures that will increase cronyism, hurt veterans and minorities, and the only opportunity for the public to comment was at a single public hearing on a weekday.

    Today, the Assembly State Government Committee heard testimony from the state’s largest union, the CWA, as well as from veterans, minorities, and other groups who oppose the changes to the protections offered by civil service.

    Leading the charge was CWA’s Hetty Rosenstein. I’ll let her tell the story in her own words in this three minute video:

    When Was The Last Time Privatization Worked Out?

    This Wednesday the Assembly Budget Committee is holding a hearing on Governor Chris Christie’s plan to privatize the NJ Lottery.

    The fact is privatization almost never works.  Never. Whether it’s highways, tolls, parking, MVC inspections, etc., etc., etc it is rarely cost effective or service improving.

    I have a very simple bar for privatizing the lottery, or in fact any state-owned resource or service: The contract must guarantee increased revenue for the state.

    In the case of the Lottery, I would also require that retail establishments be allowed — in fact advantaged — to sell lottery tickets in brick and mortar stores.  So many of these stores make their margins on the candy, newspapers and other items lottery players purchase when coming in for the tickets.

    All in all I come at any kind of privatization as a massive skeptic, and want the contracts to guarantee increased revenue, decreased costs and better service with penalties and the ability to break the contract if they are not.

    People of Faith for Full Equality

    In the run-up to yesterday’s breakthrough Senate marriage vote, both Senate Judiciary, then Assembly Judiciary heard a great deal of mostly repetitive and inaccurate testimony against the bill from people claiming religious objections. This, despite the bill’s clearly stated provision exempting religious institutions and their facilities from holding gay marriages (read out loud by Assembly sponsor Reed Gusciora). Reality is there’s considerable support from the faithful of many traditions. As the full Assembly prepares to consider the bill Thursday 1pm (full Senate passed it yesterday), here one Catholic writes eloquently why he supports it, and here’s another from a Jewish P-O-V by Stephen Yellin I also recommend.  – promoted by Rosi

    We’ve heard a lot in New Jersey about “Equality” lately. Diverse opinions, harsh criticisms, love and hate have characterized this debate. I wish we heard more from the laity of the churches, and communities of faith around the state-I wish they were the ones who were politically vocal.

    New Jersey has a waterloo moment coming up this week as our Legislature votes again on Marriage equality for the LGBT community in our state. I’ve heard politicians come out and say that they feel they cannot do it for “religious”, “spiritual” or “God-spoken” reasons. People of Faith for equality need to use our voice.

    10 AM Open Thread – Marriage Equality Hearing in Assembly Judiciary

    UPDATE 7:25: Full Assembly will take A-1 up Feb. 16.

    UPDATE 5:10pm: After nearly 7 hours of testimony, the Assembly Judiciary Committee voted 5-2 to send A-1 to the full Assembly for consideration. The vote: YES: Johnson, Gusciora, Caputo, Quijano, Barnes. NO: Carroll, Schepisi. Straight party-line vote.

    Steven Goldstein, GSE at Assembly Judiciary 1/2/12
    Garden State Equality’s Steven Goldstein in a rare moment of calm

    If this post looks familiar, it should: 9 days ago, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard hours of testimony, then passed S-1 to the full Senate by a vote of 8-4.

    Today, Assembly Judiciary Committee hears testimony on A-1.
    At the Senate panel session, though there were far more people who showed up and were prepared to testify for equality, about an equal number of pro’s and con’s were chosen to address the committee. This morning, Garden State Equality showed up at the crack of dawn to greet supporters, many of whom arrived wearing EQUALITY The American Dream tee-shirts. Gov. Christie’s response to the rise in the legislature of this issue was the ill-advised and ignorant statement about the civil rights movement which got him a week of the kind of national coverage people usually don’t want.

    Assembly Judiciary crowd, ME, 1/2/12
    Crowd waits at Assembly Judiciary, many in EQUALITY t-shirts

    Two ways (or both) to follow:

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  • Listen LIVE here.

    Please note: You’ll need Windows Media Player, which takes a few moments to download. There’s a link for it on the Statehouse media page. Hearings often start late, so keep refreshing the page until it’s up.

  • We’ll keep this an Open Thread. So if you’re listening or in the audience, please let us know what you’re hearing and thinking.