by Dana DiFilippo, New Jersey Monitor
The last few weeks of June is a dizzying time at the Statehouse in Trenton, with some bills flying through the Legislature faster than Danica Patrick rounds a curve at the racetrack.
But it’s also a time when plenty of bills stall, derailed by community outcry, backroom balking, or disinterest by the legislative leaders who control what makes it to the floor for a vote.
Lawmakers could make a rare return to Trenton over the summer break.
Sen. Brian Stack has said he’ll call the judiciary committee he chairs back to Trenton to vote on judicial nominations to reduce a severe judge shortage, while Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said lawmakers might reconvene to consider gun legislation in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision weakening New Jersey’s concealed carry regulations.
If they do, both bodies could pad their agendas to move more bills toward the governor’s desk.
But hundreds of bills introduced since January remain in limbo after they didn’t make it through both bodies for a vote before the summer recess.
In the schools
Several lawmakers introduced bills to increase school curriculum transparency after the state Department of Education adopted new health and sex education standards that are set to be implemented this fall.
Thousands of parents and a few GOP lawmakers objected to the standards as graphic and age-inappropriate and packed legislative and local school board meetings to protest them.
In response, Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) introduced a bill that would have required school boards starting this summer to post such curriculum online, allow parents to review and ask questions about curricula before board approval, and reiterate parents’ rights, as guaranteed in a 1980 state law, to opt their child out of sex education at school.
But that bill, too, prompted protests, and the bill never made it to a full floor vote in either chamber.
An unrelated bill that would require schools to provide menstrual hygiene products in bathrooms sparked outcry from the same critics, who objected to putting products in boys’ bathrooms for transgender students. The bill was part of a legislative package to reduce period poverty and expand access to menstrual products. None of those bills made it to a full vote.
Revamping the state’s graduation requirements also will have to wait until lawmakers return from recess.
A measure that would direct the Department of Education to find an alternative to the test to be taken in 11th grade passed the full Senate unanimously but remains stalled in the Assembly’s education committee. The bill seeks to find another option starting with the class of 2026.
In pandemic news, it’ll be left up to colleges whether to require a COVID-19 vaccine to attend classes in-person or work on campus. A bill that would have mandated the inoculation at higher education institutions was introduced in late June but wasn’t voted on in committees ahead of the summer recess.
Progressive groups claimed a victory last week when the Senate opted not to vote on a bill that would revamp New Jersey’s campaign finance laws, including by dramatically increasing the maximum amount donors can give to political candidates and allowing more political donors to win public contracts.
The bill, introduced just two weeks ago, appeared ready for quick approval from the Legislature, but it’s now in limbo.
Sen. Teresa Ruiz’s bill to require state governments to translate vital documents and provide translation services in 15 languages still awaits a vote in committees in both chambers. In the most diverse state in the nation, most documents are only required to be provided in English.
Protecting public safety
Sen. Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen) introduced a bill in March to abolish the position of county constables statewide, a few months after a state watchdog condemned constables as untrained, unsupervised — yet often armed — cop wannabes who are subject to no accountability. The Senate law and public safety committee unanimously advanced the bill in May, but it went nowhere in the Assembly.
Another bill meant to help state police better investigate missing persons and human trafficking cases passed unanimously in the Senate in May but stalled in the Assembly. The measure would allow investigators to access — without consent — someone’s cellphone records, medical records, and other private information. Law enforcement officers who testified in support of the bill said they can lose investigatory leads and evidence when they can’t access these records quickly.
Meanwhile, efforts to diversify policing in New Jersey largely fizzled out.
A controversial bill that would have allowed law enforcement agencies to spend civil forfeiture funds on diversity training for officers, minority recruitment, and community outreach passed the Assembly in March but stalled in the Senate. Criminal justice reformers objected to the bill because they regard civil forfeiture as a problematic police practice that disproportionately impacts low-income communities of color.
A bill that would require implicit bias training for all police recruits during basic training passed in the Assembly in February, but remains stuck in the Senate.
And a proposal to pay people to find the state more cops of color failed to make it to the floor in either chamber. Under that bill from Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), the state would create a $1.25 million program that would pay $250 to anyone who recruits a minority law enforcement candidate who enters a police training academy.
A bill encouraging businesses to hire people recovering from drug addiction failed to reach the floor in either chamber.
The measure, sponsored by Gopal, would provide businesses with gross income tax credits of up to $2,000 for each worker recovering from drug addiction, with the size of the award depending on how many hours an eligible employee works.
Lawmakers introduced dozens of bills to improve the state’s unemployment process, which has been repeatedly criticized since a deluge of claims backlogged thousands of jobless applications.
A bill that would require an annual report of the Department of Labor’s work, including how quickly and accurately unemployment claims and appeals are processed, has not been heard in the Assembly’s labor committee. It passed the full Senate unanimously in mid-June.
A handful of bills aimed at curbing cannabis use for certain employees did not advance out of committees. Bills that would have prohibited cannabis use among law enforcement, people who operate heavy machinery and weapons, and firefighters, EMTs, and 911 dispatchers were introduced shortly after legal cannabis launched in the state.
Senate President Nicholas Scutari, a long-time supporter of cannabis legalization, previously said it would be a very “dangerous, slippery slope” to regulate what employees do during their off hours. He hasn’t commented specifically on the bills.
It’s a gas, gas, gas
New Jerseyans will have to wait yet again for any hope of pumping their own gas, after a bill that would have given them that right — or chore, depending on how you look at it — stalled.
Drivers also won’t get tax rebates, as Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson) proposed in May, to offset skyrocketing gas prices, with that bill not making it to the floor either. A similar bill sponsored by Sen. Ed Durr (R-Gloucester) also petered out.