GOP senators ask if NJ workers pick up their phones

by Nikita Biryukov, New Jersey Monitor

A pair of Republican senators want a new method of oversight for state offices: cold calls.

Sens. Jon Bramnick (R-Union) and Tony Bucco (R-Morris) on Thursday introduced a bill that would create the State Office of the Consumer to measure the availability of live-person assistance at state agencies, local governments, and regulated industries, like insurance companies.

The push for a consumer advocate comes amid complaints the Department of Labor, Motor Vehicle Commission, and some other state agencies had spotty availability during the pandemic.

“This is really simple. If I’m running a company — even my own company — I call my office and see who picks it up, how they act,” Bramnick said. “No one does that at the Labor Department.”

The office would be overseen by the Legislature and would be required to submit monthly reports on agencies’ responsiveness to the Legislature and governor. It would also periodically review the accessibility of websites run by organizations under its purview.

“I’m tired of this nonsense — people hiding behind voicemail or hiding behind websites,” Bramnick said. “Call my office. Either office. Call my law office. I’ve got 25 people answering the phones. I don’t want this phone to ring more than twice.”

In August, a University of Chicago study found New Jerseyans were less likely than residents in any other state to get calls answered at some state offices, including the one handling questions and complaints about unemployment.

A spokesperson for the Department of Labor, which is required under federal law to report some related information to the U.S. Department of Labor, has questioned the study’s methodology, but a field test conducted by the New Jersey Monitor yielded similar results.

“We witnessed the long lines at the MVC and heard the horror stories about unemployment during the pandemic,” Bucco said. “That was first-hand proof that things were really bad.  Unfortunately, when you listen to those agency heads, they never really seem to understand how bad it really is.

Spokespeople for the Motor Vehicle Commission and Department of Labor declined to comment.

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