Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Singleton Continues Efforts to Address Impact of Foreclosure Crisis with New Bill to Clean Up Abandoned, Vacant Properties

Measure Would Help Municipalities Hold Banks or Property Owners Responsible for Maintaining Upkeep of Vacant Properties

(TRENTON) – As part of his continued efforts to address the impact of the foreclosure crisis in New Jersey, Assemblyman Troy Singleton has introduced legislation to help minimize neighborhood eyesores and public safety issues resulting from vacant and abandoned properties.
“Vacant and abandoned properties negatively impact public safety and neighboring property values, affecting communities throughout the state,” said Singleton (D-Burlington).  “We saw it locally in our district after frustrated Riverton residents complained about neighborhood eyesores and unsafe conditions that have arisen from prolonged abandonment of properties.  Riverton officials listened and responded by passing a local ordinance to hold these property owners accountable.  This legislation is modeled after their measure in an effort to help address this ubiquitous problem statewide.”
The legislation comes on the heels of another measure Singleton recently introduced, the Mortgage Assistance Pilot Program (A-3915), which is designed to help revive the housing market and keep families in their homes by allowing someone whose property value has plummeted below what they owe on their mortgage to have their principal lowered to an amount more reflective of current market realities. 
Specifically, the new bill (A-4031) would help municipalities hold those responsible for maintaining vacant and abandoned properties accountable by requiring them to register the property with the municipality where it is located. 
A property would be considered vacant and abandoned if it is not legally occupied by a mortgagor or tenant for residential or business purposes, it cannot be legally reoccupied, and at least two conditions which indicate abandonment exist. The title holder or mortgage lender responsible for maintaining a property pursuant to current law would be required to register the property.
The bill would also provide enforcement tools to help ensure that these properties are properly maintained by authorizing municipalities to require responsible parties for vacant and abandoned properties to undertake certain protective measures regarding such properties. Specifically, a municipality would be able to require a responsible party to enclose and secure the property against unauthorized entry, post a sign on the property with pertinent contact information, and maintain liability insurance.
A municipality would also be authorized to establish a fee of not more than $250 to register a vacant and abandoned property, and to establish renewal fees of not more than $500 for the first renewal, and not more than $750 for any subsequent renewal.
The bill would also establish penalties for violations of any of its provisions or any ordinance adopted pursuant thereto. Specifically, a responsible party would be liable to a penalty of not less than $500 and not more than $1,000 for a violation. Each day that a violation continues would constitute an additional, separate, and distinct offense.
The measure has been referred to the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee.

Oliver, Bramnick, Benson & Green Bill to Grant College Credit to Students Completing Jersey Boys and Girls State Programs Clears Assembly

(TRENTON) -  Bipartisan legislation sponsored by Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, Republican Leader Jon M. Bramnick, Assemblyman Daniel Benson and Assemblyman Jerry Green to give students participating in the American Legion Jersey Boys State or the American Legion Auxiliary Jersey Girls State programs college credit for successfully completing the week-long course in government was approved 76-0 Monday by the General Assembly.
“These are exemplary students and potential leaders in government,” said Oliver (D-Essex). “Chosen for their interest in civics and academic excellence, the students deserve credit for the intensive study and participation that is required of them while in this program. Let’s give them a head start as a reward for their hard work.”
“The Boys and Girls State programs provide high school students with a lifetime's worth of knowledge about our political system and government process,” said Bramnick (R-Union/Morris/Somerset). “Young students deserve college credit for completing this challenging program to advance their education and leadership skills.”
Under the bill, public and independent institutions of higher education would be permitted   to grant up to three college credits to high school students who successfully complete the American Legion Jersey Boys State or the American Legion Auxiliary Jersey Girls State programs. The bill also would direct the Commission on Higher Education to encourage New Jersey colleges and universities to award students’ credit for successful completion of the programs.
“As an alum of the American Legion Jersey Boys State, I know firsthand the benefits that these programs offer to young people who are interested in learning more about how our democratic government works,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “The education given and the level of work expected from participants is exceptional and worthy of college credits.”       
“These programs give young people who may be interested in pursuing a career in politics a hands-on understanding of how our government works,” said Green (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union). “Giving college credits for the intensive work completed during the programs rewards participants, and gives those interested in joining another incentive to participate in these valuable programs.”
The goals of Boys State and Girls State programs are to: develop leadership and pride in American citizens; educate participants about our system of government; instill in participants a great understanding of American traditions; and stimulate a desire to maintain our government process. The Jersey Girls State is currently based at Georgian Court College. Jersey Boys State is currently based at Rider University.
The bill now heads to the Senate for further consideration.

Green & Stender Bill to Address Claims of Public Adjusters Price Gouging NJ Homeowners After Sandy Advances

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Jerry Green and Assemblywoman Linda Stender to cap how much a public adjuster can charge a homeowner for insurance claim assistance for certain emergencies was approved by full Assembly today.
Green decided to pursue the bill after hearing complaints during a meeting in Union County last year from homeowners affected by Sandy who were overcharged by public adjusters hired to appraise their insurance claims. Public adjusters are experts on property loss adjustment who are retained exclusively by policyholders to assist in preparing, filing and adjusting insurance claims.
“Public adjusters are supposed to look out for the best interests of the homeowner, but according to these residents, some of these adjusters were charging up to 40 to 50 percent of what the insurance company was to pay eventually. This is a crime. A loan shark doesn’t even charge that much,” said Green (D-Union/Middlesex/Somerset). “There is nothing currently in the books to prevent these individuals from taking advantage of these homeowners. This bill changes that.”
“The damage caused by a natural disaster can be devastating. Navigating the system as you try to rebuild can be equally consuming. The last thing a homeowner affected by Sandy or any other natural disaster needs is a public adjuster who is more interested in making money than helping,” said Stender (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union). “This bill will limit the amount that a public adjuster can charge a homeowner when settling insurance claims following a catastrophic loss occurrence.”
The bill would prohibit an individual, firm, association or corporation licensed under the “Public Adjusters’ Licensing Act” from charging, agreeing to or accepting any compensation in excess of 10 percent of the amount paid out by the insurer for claims based on events that are the result of a catastrophic loss occurrence. As defined in the bill, “catastrophic loss occurrence” means an occurrence designated by the President of the United States or the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or the Governor or the State Office of Emergency Management in the Division of State Police in the Department of Law and Public Safety, or any other authorized federal, state or local agency, as an emergency or a disaster and includes, but is not limited to, a flood, hurricane, storm or earthquake. The compensation level established by the bill would apply to such claims made for a period of one year from the occasion of the declaration of the catastrophic loss occurrence.
            The legislation was approved 66-6-1; it now continues on to the Senate for further consideration.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Coutinho, Green, Singleton, Watson Coleman, Ramos & Conaway’s Sweeping Economic Development Incentive Reform Legislation Released by Assembly Budget Panel

Measure Designed to Create Jobs & Spark Economic Development

(TRENTON) – Legislation Assembly Democrats Albert Coutinho, Troy Singleton, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Ruben J. Ramos Jr., Jerry Green and Herb Conaway M.D. introduced to boost New Jersey’s job creation efforts by revamping and streamlining the state’s economic development tax incentives was released Thursday by the Assembly Budget Committee.
The bill (A-3680) would merge five state tax-incentive programs into two, with one focused on job creation and the other on economic development.
“Our tax incentive programs have been invaluable to our state’s economic development planning, but - with five programs with varying goals - we clearly need to streamline these programs and make it easier for businesses to understand and take advantage of them,” said Coutinho (D-Essex). “We want businesses to bring new jobs to New Jersey and preserve the ones they already provide. This merger of five incentive programs into two will enhance the ability of the state to attract and retain businesses to further the overarching goal of creating and retaining jobs.”
The bill, the New Jersey Economic Opportunity Act of 2013, expands two economic development incentive programs administered by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.
The Grow New Jersey Assistance Program would be the state's premiere business attraction and retention incentive.
“It would be built to better match or surpass the financial incentive packages being offered by neighboring and other competing states, while also providing bonuses to drive development to smart growth areas in the state,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “This is vital for job creation in a state where we’ve seen an unemployment rate hovering near 10 percent. We need to do better.”
“This program would help more readily close project financing gaps and build public infrastructure critical to redevelopment projects, while also providing bonuses to achieve public policy objectives, such as bringing fresh produce to urban food deserts and rebuilding tourism destinations that were destroyed due to the effects of Hurricane Sandy,” said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Let’s make it easier to create jobs and economic growth while accomplishing some of our major policy goals.”
The bill phases out the provisions of the Business Retention and Relocation Assistance Grant Program, the Business Employment Incentive Program and the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit Program.
Coutinho said he’s had in-depth discussions with developers, business organizations, labor unions and planning groups as he’s finalized the bill.
“We need to improve upon our current policies and make it easier to create and preserve jobs in New Jersey,” said Ramos (D-Hudson). “We need to do better, and this sweeping reform will go a long way toward creating new jobs in our state.”
“An unemployment rate that’s hovering around 9 percent means we have to do something different,” said Green (D-Union/Middlesex/Somerset). “This is an effort to streamline our incentive programs to create more jobs and economic development. It’s a step in the right direction.”
“We have to focus on job creation and economic development, and this bill will allow us to increase the ability of existing New Jersey businesses, including small and mid-size companies, to use these economic development tools to expand their businesses in place, and to create and retain New Jersey jobs,” said Conaway (D-Burlington). “We will better match or surpass the financial incentive packages being offered by neighboring and other competing states.”

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Democratic Legislation to Help Protect Teens from Skin Cancer Risk Signed Into Law

Caputo, Johnson, Greenwald, Conaway & Lampitt Measure Would Bar Anyone Under 17 from Using Tanning Beds

            (TRENTON) – A measure sponsored by Assembly Democrats Ralph Caputo, Gordon Johnson, Louis Greenwald, Herb Conaway, Jr., M.D. and Pamela Lampitt that will help protect teens from an increased risk of skin cancer by banning access to tanning beds for anyone under 17 years old has been signed into law.
“I think this final product is a healthy compromise that protects as many people as possible while heightening oversight.  Increasing the age that individuals can begin exposing themselves to tanning bed rays will help delay their exposure to potentially cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation,” said Caputo (D-Essex).  “This law is akin to when we raised the tobacco purchasing age.  Hopefully time delayed is life saved.”
Caputo, the lead sponsor of the law, noted that it was first introduced last session, but the incident involving the Nutley woman from his legislative district who was accused of bringing her daughter into a tanning booth further underscored the need for the legislation now. 
According to the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control, individuals who use indoor tanning devices before the age of 35, increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent
 “I’m sure there are many adults out there who don’t realize how much greater the risk of skin cancer is for young people who use tanning beds.  This law will help eliminate the possibility that those unfamiliar with these risks would allow a minor to use a tanning bed,” said Johnson (D-Bergen).
The Assembly had originally passed a bill barring anyone under the age of 18 from using a tanning bed.  In a compromise reached with the Senate, the new law (A-2142) will now bar anyone under the age of 17 from using tanning beds in New Jersey, regardless of whether they have obtained parental permission.  However, the law will allow teens 14 years of age and older to use spray tanning, which does not expose them to UV radiation the way a tanning bed does. 
A person 17 years old will be allowed to use a tanning bed, provided that a parent or guardian is present for the initial consultation and purchases all tanning bed sessions for the minor and provides proof of identification.  Tanning facilities will be prohibited from allowing anyone 17 years old to use a tanning bed on consecutive days and will be required to monitor the frequency of their use and record all appointments.
Emancipated minors will not be subject to the provisions of the law.
The law was also amended to impose penalties for violating the provisions of the bill as they relate to minors’ use of tanning facilities, which will be $1,000 for the first offense and $2,000 for the second offense, and $2,000 and a five-day suspension of the facility’s registration and operation for a third and subsequent offense.
 “As a kid, it’s easy to feel invincible to the effects of risky behaviors like smoking and tanning,” said Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington).  “But the earlier one engages in these habits, the more deadly the long-term effects can be.  Hopefully this will help stop or at least limit potentially harmful exposure.”
 “Ultimately, this is a practical, life-saving measure,” said Conaway (D-Burlington).  “A number of studies have shown that the earlier a person starts using tanning beds, the greater their risk of developing skin cancer.”
 “Research shows that melanoma is on the rise and the increase is greatest among young women, the largest demographic of tanning bed users,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington).  “Hopefully this law will help educate everyone about the risks and ultimately save lives.”
The law will take effect six months after enactment.  Currently, California and Vermont have laws preventing minors under the age of 18 from using tanning beds.  At least 25 other states have varying restrictions on teen tanning.