Friday, June 28, 2013

Coutinho: Economic Growth Bill Will Make a Better New Jersey

(TRENTON) – Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Chairman Albert Coutinho (D-Essex) released the following statement after the Assembly voted 68-5 to approve The New Jersey Economic Opportunity Act of 2013. Coutinho is lead sponsor of the bill (A-3680):
 “Our tax incentive programs have been invaluable to our state’s economic development planning, but with five programs with varying goals we clearly needed to streamline these programs and make it easier for businesses to understand and take advantage of them.
“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.
“Under this bill, we will see economic growth in areas that have not seen economic growth in decades. With changes to this bill, we will continue to protect our environment. In the end, we will be doing the right thing for New Jersey’s economy and for job creation, and I look forward to seeing the benefits for years to come.”

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Green & Watson Coleman Bill to Extend Development Fee Moratorium; Transform Foreclosed Properties into Affordable Housing & Protect Affordable Housing Funds from State Seizure Clears Assembly

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Speaker Pro Tempore Jerry Green (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer/Hunterdon) to further extend the moratorium on development fees for non-residential construction projects, transform foreclosed properties into affordable housing and protect certain municipalities from having their affordable housing funds raided by the state was approved Monday by the General Assembly.

“New Jersey consistently ranks as one of the most expensive states to live in. Not surprisingly, we also have some of the highest foreclosure rates in the country. Meanwhile, while we have slowly made some gains, our job market is still a long way from recovery,” said Green, who chairs the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee. “This bill would help attract more development and hence create needed jobs by reinstating the moratorium on these fees, while putting in place the controls that will allow New Jersey to meet the affordable housing needs of its residents.”

“Economic realities are forcing many families to foreclose on their homes. Many of these properties end up vacant, undermining the health, safety and economic vitality of neighborhoods, depressing their property values and reducing revenues to municipalities. On the other side of the coin, you have families of lower financial means struggling to find adequate, affordable housing,” said Watson Coleman. “This bill helps address this pervasive problem by taking foreclosed properties that threaten the stability of neighborhoods and turning them into affordable housing. It’s a win-win.”

The bill (A-4251/S-2716) extends the moratorium on the imposition of fees on non-residential construction projects for two and a half years, until January 1, 2016. The statewide non-residential development fees were enacted as part of revisions to the Fair Housing Act and Municipal Land Use Law in 2008. The 2.5 percent fee was charged to office, commercial and industrial real estate developers to help municipalities meet affordable housing obligations. A moratorium of the non-residential fee requirement was initially placed on the imposition of fees in 2009. In 2011, the moratorium on the imposition of the fees was extended by two years, until July 1, 2013. 

The bill also creates the “New Jersey Residential Foreclosure Transformation Act,” which establishes the “New Jersey Foreclosure Transformation Program” as a temporary program within the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (HMFA) to purchase foreclosed residential properties from institutional lenders and dedicating the properties for occupancy as affordable housing. Under the bill, the HMFA must cease the program’s operations on December 31, 2017.

“Foreclosures in New Jersey continue to rise with no relief in sight. The administration’s answer to this problem has been to hold on to money allocated to help property owners avoid this very situation. Now it wants to take away funds from municipalities meant to create affordable housing,” said Green. “Foreclosed properties can quickly turn into nuisance properties, attracting criminal activity and driving down property values. This bill helps us accomplish two things: it helps reduce the growing number of foreclosure properties, while helping meet the demand for affordable housing.” 

The bill empowers the HMFA to purchase foreclosed residential properties and mortgage assets from institutional lenders in order to produce affordable housing and dedicate it as such for 30 years.

The bill directs the HMFA to enter into contracts or loans, or both, with no more than two experienced, financially sophisticated, community development financial institutions to enhance the ability of the HMFA to fulfill its purpose of producing affordable housing. Under the bill, the HMFA or, if applicable, one of its contractors, must give the municipality where the property is located (1) a right to consent or withhold consent to the proposed purchase and dedication as affordable housing, as well as (2) the right of first refusal to purchase the property and dedicate it as affordable housing.

A municipality may exercise its right to buy and dedicate eligible property for affordable housing, decline the option to buy, or decline to exercise the option and instead authorize the HMFA or its contractors to use monies from the town's affordable housing trust fund to buy the property.

The bill also provides that whenever the HMFA, its contractors or a municipality buys an eligible property using monies deposited in a municipality's affordable housing trust fund, the town is to receive two units of credit toward any Council on Affordable Housing-imposed obligation to provide affordable housing for each eligible unit of affordable housing dedicated and provided.

The bill awards municipalities additional unites of credit, above the actual number of dedicated affordable housing units produced, as an incentive for them to authorize the use of their affordable housing monies for the purchase of eligible properties and to dedicate them as affordable housing.

In addition, the bill establishes a mechanism through which a “foreclosure-impacted municipality” – a municipality that has 10 or more foreclosed homes listed on a multiple listing service for at least 60 days – can insulate its affordable housing trust funds from the laws that will require the transfer of its trust fund monies to the “New Jersey Affordable Housing Trust Fund.”

“To take funds meant to create affordable housing when there is a need for more affordable housing is just mind-boggling,” said Watson Coleman. “These funds have a specific purpose: to create moderately priced housing for families of lower means; not help the administration plug holes in the budget. There is no honor in boasting about a budget balanced on the backs of our most vulnerable residents.”

A foreclosure-impacted municipality can accomplish this by adopting a resolution committing the expenditure of its municipal affordable housing trust fund monies for the production of affordable housing and authorizing the transfer of at least $150,000 of its municipal affordable housing trust fund monies to the HMFA for the HMFA to use to produce affordable housing.  If a municipality adopts the resolution to authorize the transfer within 60 days after the effective date of the bill, the municipality would be deemed to have committed the funds by the deadline established in A-500.

Under the bill, the HMFA must use the funds transferred from a foreclosure-impacted municipality to produce affordable housing within that municipality. If the HMFA is unable to use all of the transferred funds within two years of the date of transfer, it must return the remaining funds to the municipality, which would have at least six months from the date the funds are returned to commit the funds in accordance with other provisions of law. During this time, all municipal trust fund monies designated for the purchase of foreclosed properties would be protected from transfer to the state.

The bill also establishes the “Foreclosure to Affordable Housing Transformation Fund,” a non-lapsing, revolving fund to serve as the repository for funds appropriated or otherwise made available for the HMFA to fulfill its purposes. The HMFA would administer the fund and would be authorized to transfer into the fund any amounts it has that may be used for the production of affordable housing.       
Lastly, the bill requires the HMFA to make an annual report on the program’s activities to the governor and the Legislature, setting forth a complete operating and financial statement covering the program’s operations, transactions, and holdings during the year. The report must be posted on the agency’s website.

The bill was approved 46-27-5 by the Assembly and now awaits further consideration by the Senate.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Green Praises Preservation of Affordable Housing Funds in FY 2014 Budget

(TRENTON) – Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee Chair Jerry Green applauded the fact that the FY 2014 budget advanced by the Assembly Budget Committee on Thursday preserves the funding for affordable housing that the Christie administration had previously tried to confiscate for the general fund.
“This has been a lengthy battle, but one that was certainly worth it because this funding is crucial to municipalities and low and middle income residents trying to pursue the American dream.
“It’s unfortunate that this money has been tied up by legal battles this year, but thanks to the sound judgment of the courts, I’m pleased that we’ve finally been able to reach an agreement.
“Families throughout New Jersey are struggling to find homes within their means in a state with one of the highest costs of living in the country.  Meanwhile, towns have been powerless to help because they have been kept in limbo for far too long.
“The resolution of this matter is long overdue but certainly welcome,” said Green (D-Somerset/Middlesex/Union).

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Albano, Diegnan, Jasey & Andrzejczak Bills to Help Students with Dyslexia & other Reading Disabilities Continue Advancing

(TRENTON) – An Assembly approved legislative package sponsored by Assembly Democrats Nelson Albano (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland), Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr., (D-Middlesex), Mila Jasey (D-Essex/Morris) and Andrew Andrzejczak (D- Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland) to enhance the education of students with dyslexia and other reading disabilities was advanced Wednesday by a Senate panel.
Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability characterized by difficulties with accurate or fluent word recognition and poor spelling and decoding abilities, resulting in core difficulties with reading, writing, spelling and sometimes spoken language. An estimated 15-20 percent of people have language-based learning difficulties. An estimated 70-85 percent of students in special education for a learning disability have dyslexia, making it the most prevalent learning disability in children.
“All children need basic reading and writing abilities to succeed in school and in life. Children with dyslexia can learn effectively with appropriate teaching, but if the instruction is inadequate, it can have devastating consequences that will follow these children into adulthood,” said Albano. “This struggle can cause significant stress, lead to poor self-image and discourage students from continuing with school. Early identification, support and sustained targeted services for students with dyslexia are essential to increase academic success and allow these students to reach their full potential.”
The first bill (A-3606/3607), sponsored by Albano, Diegnan, Jasey and Andrzejczak, requires 20 hours of professional development devoted to reading disabilities for public school teachers.           Current state Board of Education regulations require all active teachers in a school district to complete 100 hours of approved professional development every five years. Under this bill (A-3606/3607), at least 20 hours of that professional development would have to be made up of instruction on the screening, intervention, accommodation and use of technology for students with reading disabilities, including dyslexia, during each five-year professional development period.
The bill (A-3606/3607) also requires the state Department of Education (DOE) to provide professional development opportunities related to reading disabilities to school district personnel. Under the bill (A-3606/3607), the state DOE must provide professional development opportunities related to reading disabilities, including dyslexia, to a variety of school district personnel. These opportunities would be designed to account for the various manners in which different school district personnel interact with, and develop instructional programs for students with reading disabilities.
“Informed and effective instruction by skilled teachers, especially in the early grades, can prevent or alleviate the severity of dyslexia and related reading and language problems,” said Diegnan, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee. “Students with dyslexia require suitable instruction and educational interventions for their specific disability. In order for educators who teach children with dyslexia to be effective, they need considerable and specialized knowledge and skills, and adequate training to recognize early signs of risk and provide successful teaching methods.”
The second bill (A-3608), also sponsored by Albano, Diegnan, Jasey and Andrzejczak, directs the state Board of Education to incorporate the International Dyslexia Association (IDA)’s definition of dyslexia into its special education regulations. Current state board regulations list dyslexia as one of the specific learning disabilities that may impair a person’s ability to understand or use language or perform mathematical calculations, but do not specifically define it.
Under the bill (A-3608), the state Board of Education would incorporate the IDA definition which reads as follows: “Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”
“All children, regardless of disability, should be given the educational means to succeed. We send our children to school and trust that their teachers will give them the right instruction to do just that. The better equipped our teachers are, the better our children will learn,” said Jasey. “These measures are meant to help and empower children who may have a harder time in school because of their reading disabilities, by making sure that their teachers have the necessary expertise and skills.”

“No child should fail to meet his or her full potential because they did not receive adequate instruction in school. A reading disability is only an impediment to academic success, if it is not met with efficient, specialized instruction,” said Andrzejczak. “A state endorsement, along with the other measures proposed in this package, would help ensure that these children will have access to teachers who are specifically trained in appropriate instructional methods to help them learn and succeed.”
The bills were approved by the Assembly in April and released Wednesday by the Senate Education Committee.

Assembly Democratic Bill Regulating Gun Purchases, Permitting, Internet Ammunition Sales & Mental Health Screening Released by Assembly Panel

Omnibus Bill Includes Provisions from Bills Approved by Assembly in February

            (TRENTON) – Consolidated Assembly Democratic legislation to combat gun violence in New Jersey by improving firearms purchaser identification cards and handgun purchase permits, requiring firearms safety training, enhancing mental health screening and changing how Internet sales of ammunition are tracked was released Monday by an Assembly panel.
            The bill (A-4182) sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington) is part of the Assembly Democratic gun violence prevention effort and features provisions from eight bills approved by the Assembly in February as part of its sweeping gun violence prevention initiative. The consolidated bill includes elements of:
·         A3772-3510-3645-3646-3666-3750 (Greenwald, Johnson, Wagner, Eustace, Cryan, Vainieri Huttle, Mosquera, O’Donnell, Jasey, Quijano, Mainor, McKeon) - Revises statutes concerning firearms purchaser identification cards and handgun purchase permits; makes handgun purchase permit valid for four years.
·         A1683 (Johnson, Eustace) - Criminalizes purchase or possession of firearms ammunition by persons convicted of certain crimes.
·         A3748 (O’Donnell, Mainor, McKeon, Jasey, Cryan) - Requires background check for private gun sales.
“We remain all too familiar with the terrible tragedy the gaps in the law can bring,” said Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington). “With this effort, we’ll be making great strides toward making our state safer by updating the rules for gun purchases and permitting and sales of ammunition over the Internet. These are common sense changes that will make our state safer without restricting legal and responsible gun ownership.”
Under the revised bill:
·         The paper firearms purchaser identification card would no longer be issued to New Jersey residents. Rather, the information on the card would be embedded in a firearms purchaser identifier with a picture;
·         The Attorney General and the Superintendent of State Police would be charged with determining whether this information would be embedded in the driver’s license or be a separate, independent card;
·         The transition from the current paper card to having this information embedded in a firearms identifier would take place over a two to five year phase-in period;
·         Residents who do not have a driver’s license would have their information embedded on the identification cards that are issued by the Motor Vehicle Commission;
·         All retail dealers of firearms would be required to use this system;
·         A person who applies for a card or embedded firearms purchaser identifier is still required to submit to a criminal history background check to determine if the applicant is disqualified from owning a firearm under the law;
·         Any person who purchases a handgun is also required obtain a card in addition to a permit to purchase a handgun.  The permit information would be embedded on the identifier and would be valid for four years. 
The bill requires the Attorney General to develop and implement the system that will allow retail firearms dealers to use the embedded firearms purchaser identifier to instantly determine whether that buyer is qualified to purchase a firearm. 
If the superintendent determines after 36 months of testing that the system is seriously flawed, the superintendent is to report to the Governor and the Legislature recommending that implementation be postponed until the Attorney General and the superintendent determine that the system is fully operational. 
After the Attorney General has implemented this system, all retail firearms dealers would be required to use it.  In the case of a handgun purchase, the system would enable a retail dealer to determine whether the transaction violates the state’s prohibition on purchasing more than one handgun in a 30-day period.
“This is all about improved safety and making sure our laws keep pace with the times,” Greenwald said.
The bill further requires applicants for the firearms purchaser identifier to present evidence of the successful completion of a firearms safety class or course approved by the superintendent as a condition for being issued the card, license, or permit. 
In developing the curriculum, the superintendent is to work in cooperation with a firearms safety panel consisting of four members, with two members appointed by the Senate President and two by the Speaker of the General Assembly.
“This will help create safer and more responsible gun ownership,” Greenwald said. “Learning how to properly handle and store weapons can go a long way in helping to avoid unnecessary tragedies.”
The bill also requires the court, upon motion of the prosecutor, to determine whether a person who has been convicted of a crime possesses a card, a permit to carry a handgun or a firearms identifier.  If the court determines that the convicted person possesses such a card, license or permit, the court is to revoke the card, license or permit at sentencing, after notice and a hearing. 
The bill also requires the superintendent to establish an electronic reporting program for dealers to record their Internet sales and transfers of ammunition on a real-time basis. 
The superintendent is to establish an electronic data base containing all the reported information, which is to be available to all law enforcement officers on a real time basis.  The reporting system would include the name, address, age, type of documentation used to establish eligibility to purchase, caliber or gauge of the ammunition sold, numerical amount of ammunition transferred in the sale and any other information deemed necessary by the superintendent.
“By tracking relatedly anonymous sales of ammunition over the Internet and enhancing record keeping, we can help prevent the next tragedy,” Greenwald said. “Gun violence has become too common in this country. These measures are meant to stop individuals whose only interest is to hurt and kill innocent people.”
The measure also requires a person to apply for a duplicate firearms identifier in the case of a change of residence.  A driver’s license or a state-issued non-driver identification card, which includes a photograph of the holder, must be used to provide proof of the change of address.  The person must certify that they are not subject to any of the statutory disabilities. 
It also mandates that the seven day waiting period for a handgun purchase permit under current law would be applicable to sales of handguns under the system implemented by this bill.
It also requires the State Police to access the Civil Commitment Automatic Tracking System when conducting background checks for the purchase of firearms and requires a person to possess a card and a permit or a permit to carry a handgun to purchase or acquire handgun ammunition.
Under amendments made to the bill on Monday, mental health screeners, psychiatrists and doctors would be required to ask whether persons believed to be in need of involuntary commitment to mental health treatment owned a firearm or possessed one of the documents. 
The court would have discretion to determine whether the firearm or documents of a person found to be in need of involuntary commitment should be searched for by law enforcement, seized, and in the case of a firearms purchaser identifier, be operationally disabled. 
The bill was released by the Assembly Budget Committee.

Democratic Measure to Boost Funding for Women’s Health Care Advanced by Assembly Panel

Wagner, Stender, Vainieri Huttle, Quijano, Mosquera, Lampitt, Jasey & Watson Coleman Two-Bill Package Would Restore Funding for Women’s Health Centers & Expand Medicaid Coverage

(TRENTON) – A two-bill package sponsored by Assembly Democrats to boost funding for women’s health care in the FY 2014 budget was advanced by an Assembly panel on Monday.
The measures – sponsored by Assemblywomen Connie Wagner, Linda Stender, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Annette Quijano, Gabriela Mosquera, Pamela Lampitt, Mila Jasey and Bonnie Watson Coleman – would restore the funding vetoed by Gov. Christie for women’s health centers and expand Medicaid coverage under new federal law to help serve some of the state’s poorest women.
The first bill (A-4171), sponsored by Wagner, Stender, Vainieri Huttle and Quijano, would expand Medicaid coverage of family planning services to non-pregnant individuals whose income does not exceed the highest income eligibility level established for pregnant women under current state plan, which is currently 200 percent of the federal poverty level in New Jersey.
“This legislation reaffirms our commitment to being fiscally prudent, while maintaining our commitment to provide access to health care for struggling women across New Jersey,” said Wagner (D-Bergen/Passaic).  “With the federal government covering 90 percent of the cost, this is an investment well worth making.”
“This is a wise and financially prudent move.  We simply can’t leave this money sitting on the table when family planning centers throughout the state have been forced to close or turn patients away,” said Stender (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union).
This bill would exercise a state option provided under the federal “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” which permits states to expand family planning services through a state plan amendment.  In doing so, the federal government would pay 90 percent of the costs for these services.
“This supplemental funding is critically important to cash-strapped states and the women and families who depend on it and we should be taking advantage of every available federal resource at our disposal,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen).
“One of the fundamental duties we’ve been elected to perform is to maximize available resources to provide basic essential services to the residents of this state,” said Quijano (D-Union).  “Nothing is more essential than access to quality healthcare.”
The second bill (A-4172), sponsored by Mosquera, Lampitt, Stender, Jasey and Watson Coleman, would provide $7,453,000 in supplemental funding for the Fiscal Year 2013 Annual Appropriations Act for Family Planning Services grants through the state Department of Health.
The sponsors noted that Governor Christie has eliminated $7.4 million for women’s health care services from the FY 2011, FY 2012, and FY 2013 state budgets.  In 2009, the funding helped support life-saving services for over 136,000 patients, including cancer screenings, birth control, prevention and treatment of STIs, breast health services, Pap tests and other health screenings. 
Assembly Democrats repeatedly attempted to restore the funding only to have it vetoed by Christie.  As a result, six health centers have closed statewide, many have been forced to cut back or eliminate services and at least 33,000 fewer patients were served in 2012 compared with 2009, a 24 percent drop in patients served. 
The funding has been prohibited from being used towards abortion services, as is expressly stated in the legislation approved today as well.
 “This appropriation does more than just provide healthcare for poor women and newborns, it saves taxpayer dollars that would otherwise be spent treating these women and infants in hospital emergency rooms after they have become seriously ill,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester).
“In difficult economic times, access to critical health services becomes even more strained due to higher unemployment rates. This funding will help ensure that every New Jerseyan, regardless of sex, race, religion or socioeconomic status, has the right to seek certain fundamental healthcare services,” said Lampitt (D-Camden).
 “We can’t afford to continue turning our backs on women and newborns as the Governor has done in his last few budgets,” said Stender.  “Restoring this funding will improve public health for some of our least fortunate, while saving taxpayers money in the long-run.”
 “In difficult fiscal times, the priorities we choose show our character as a state,” said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris).  “From a financial perspective this is a cost effective way to improve the health and well being of women and children in New Jersey.”
“We continue to take this fight to the budget once again because we believe it is one worth fighting,” said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer/Hunterdon).  “Access to life-saving cancer screenings and preventative services should be a right, not a privilege.”
The bills were approved by the Assembly Budget Committee and now await consideration by the full Assembly.

Benson, DeAngelo, Eustace, Singleton, Wagner & Quijano Bill to Ensure Honorably Discharged Service Members Receive Full Benefits Released by Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) –Legislation Assembly Democrats Daniel R. Benson, Wayne DeAngelo, Tim Eustace, Troy Singleton, Connie Wagner and Annette Quijano sponsored to ensure ex-service members fully receive their unemployment benefit was released Monday by an Assembly panel.
The bill (A-2993) would provide supplemental unemployment benefits to ex-service members in an amount such that the total benefits they receive between their federally-funded benefits for ex-service members and the supplemental benefits under this bill equals 26 times their weekly benefit amount. The supplemental benefits under the bill will not be paid until the federal benefits are exhausted and will not be charged against any employer.
This bill would become effective immediately.
"A service member may be honorably discharged before completion of their required service, whether for medical reasons, a family emergency, or other uncontrollable circumstance," said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "In the event of an early honorable discharge, the ex-service member may not qualify for the full 26 weeks of their federally-funded unemployment benefits. This legislation would ensure that they would receive their full 26 weeks of eligibility, it's unquestionably the right thing to do."
"Our service members sacrifice a lot for our nation," said DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "This bill ensures that even in the event of unforeseen but honorable circumstances, we ensure we treat those who defend our freedom the right way."
"These brave men and women protect our freedom, and we should always strive to protect their wellbeing," said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). "This bill is the least we can do for our heroes who through no fault of their own must leave the service."
"A service member who leaves through an honorable discharge to deal with medical or family concerns should not be punished," said Singleton (D-Burlington). "We need to do the right thing and ensure the sacrifices they made for us do not go unnoticed in their time of need."
"We can never forget the bravery of these men and women, so let's make sure we don't forget them when they need our help," said Wagner (D-Bergen/Passaic). "Let's make sure none of these honorable ex-service members fall between the cracks."
"Quite simply, this bill is common sense," said Quijano (D-Union). "If a service member is honorably discharged, they should not be penalized. It's that simple. With this bill, we’re doing what’s best for our heroes and making sure they are not punished due to unforeseen circumstances.”
The bill was released by the Assembly Budget Committee.

DeAngelo 3-Bill Package to Combat Unemployment Benefits Fraud and Ensure System is Better Protected for Out-of-Work New Jerseyans Advances

(TRENTON) – Legislation Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo sponsored to better protect the state’s Unemployment Insurance Fund from fraud and ensure it’s used only by those it was created to assist - unemployed New Jerseyans – was advanced Monday by an Assembly panel.
“Out-of-work New Jerseyans deserve this help, and every taxpayer deserves to know the benefits system they pay into is protected as best as possible from fraud that, in the end, only costs everyone more money,” said DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “The unemployment fund exists to help New Jerseyans get back on their feet as they find work, and it should be protected for their use and their use only. With these few basic steps, we can better ensure that happens.”
DeAngelo based the bills off a report from the Office of the State Auditor, which looked at the Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Unemployment Insurance Services program for the period of July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2011. The audit focused on benefit payments and uncovered various ways the system that could be improved or updated to improve the collection of data and provide a more timely verification of wages earned and beneficiary’s status
The bills:
·         Shortens the time period in which employers are required to file reports on wages earned by their employees from a quarterly report to a monthly report (A-3810);
·         Requires the Department of the Treasury to collect for overpayment of UI benefits (A-3811); and
·         Requires officials to make death and incarceration notifications to eliminate fraud in the UI system (A-3812).
“These are common sense steps that would help unemployed residents and give taxpayers more confidence their money in being protected,” DeAngelo said. “Preventing fraud can go a long way toward ensuring a better system, and that’s something residents and businesses – everyone for that matter – can support.”
The first bill (A-3810) shortens the time period in which employers are required to file reports on wages earned by their employees from a quarterly report to a monthly report.
This would provide a timely reporting of wages to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to assist the department in identifying individuals who may be collecting benefits for which they are not eligible.
The audit detailed the estimated time lag of wage reporting by employers of as much as four months. Employers must report the wages earned by the employee on a quarterly form required to be submitted by the employer within 30 days of the end of the calendar quarter. Therefore, wages earned in the first quarter may not be reported to the department until April 30.
“If an individual is collecting unemployment benefits, but becomes employed at some point in the quarter and does not voluntarily notify the department, it would not be aware for up to 30 days after the end of the quarter,” DeAngelo said. “This would allow the individual to fraudulently collect unemployment benefits for a maximum of 17 weeks. That’s unacceptable.”
The second bill (A-3811) would require the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to file a notice of debt with the Department of the Treasury upon the failure of an individual debtor to pay a debt incurred due to overpayment of unemployment benefits.
Under the bill, the Department of the Treasury must issue a certificate of debt and pursue the collection of the debt from the individual.  The bill provides that the Department of the Treasury may file an application with the Office of Administrative Law for wage garnishment of an individual who has failed to reimburse the department for an overpayment of UI benefits within 60 days of the date that all appeals for that payment have been exhausted.
The amount of garnishment is determined by the department and may not exceed 25 percent of the debtor’s gross earnings, provided that after the garnishment, the debtor’s income will not be less than 250 percent of the poverty level for the individual, taking into account the size of the individual’s family.
The third bill (A-3812) aims to eliminate fraud in the UI system.
Under the bill, the state registrar is directed to facilitate the electronic notification, upon completion of the death record and issuance of a burial permit, of a decedent’s name, Social Security number and last known address to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Additionally, the Department of Corrections is required to provide the Department of Labor and Workforce Development with the name and Social Security number of each inmate at the time of incarceration.
“The department would be instructed to establish a system to cross-check the death records and the list of inmates with files of individuals who are receiving unemployment insurance or temporary disability insurance benefits,” DeAngelo said. “The cross check will act as a safeguard for these public benefit programs and diminish the chance of false payments of unemployment and disability benefits.”
The bills were released by the Assembly Budget Committee.

Assembly Democratic Bill to Fund Legal Assistance to Low-Income Residents; Modernize Court Information System Continues Advancing

Legislation is sponsored by Barnes, Ramos, Caputo, Johnson, Wisniewski, Vainieri Huttle & Burzichelli

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Peter J. Barnes III, Ruben Ramos, Ralph Caputo, Gordon Johnson, John Wisniewski, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and John Burzichelli to authorize the Supreme Court to increase or add new court filing fees to help fund the work of Legal Services of New Jersey, a non-profit that provides free legal assistance in civil matters to individuals living below the poverty line, as well as the modernization of the state’s court information system was released Monday by the Assembly Budget Committee.
“New Jersey’s courts retain millions of records. Yet the court’s computer antiquated computer system has contributed to soiled information, high maintenance costs, and inefficiencies,” said Barnes (D-Middlesex). “This bill helps cut down on maintenance costs and provides better safe keeping of court records by funding the modernization of our court systems. It also creates a more stable source of funding to support the important work of Legal Services of New Jersey, as well as other organizations and programs that provide legal services to residents who otherwise could not afford it.”
            The bill (A-3308) would allow the Supreme Court to adopt rules to revise or supplement filing fees payable to the court. All existing filing fees and other statutory fees could be increased by no more than $50 in the aggregate for each fee. Revenue from the fees would be used to fund the provision of legal assistance in civil matters by Legal Services of New Jersey and its affiliates; and the development, maintenance and administration of a statewide, computerized court information system.
            “Legal Services of New Jersey provides an important service to people in our state who cannot afford legal representation in civil cases, yet funding for it has been on a steady decline,” said Ramos (D-Hudson). “By providing a more reliable source of funding for this organization, we can ensure these residents don’t have to step into a courtroom without proper legal representation.”
            “Legal services can be quite costly and not everyone can afford to hire an attorney to represent them in a civil case, especially residents who are living below the poverty line,” said Caputo (D-Essex)). “This bill would ensure that residents who struggle financially have access to proper legal guidance. No one should have to forfeit justice because they couldn’t afford to pay for an attorney.”
            “Legal Services of New Jersey has been a lifeline for low-income residents in need of legal assistance, but that assistance is threatened by deep reductions in funding its main revenue source, as well as from the current administration,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “In these times when so many people are unemployed and struggling economically, maintaining this service is critical.”
            “We cannot entrust millions of court records to an antiquated computer system. The outdated technology has not only led to high maintenance costs and inefficiencies, but also performance declines,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). “The trial courts for example have a combined backlog of nearly 30,000 cases. In order to protect the integrity of our court system, we must modernize.”
            “Navigating the judicial system can be daunting. No one should have to go at it alone, especially because of money,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “This bill provides the funds that will help Legal Services continue to offer free, legal services in civil cases to those who can’t afford it, and help upgrade the courts’ antiquated computer system for enhanced productivity at lower costs.”         
            “In addition to reducing operating costs and boosting productivity, the benefits of adapting an e-Court system include better outcomes for litigants and offenders, a standardized delivery of justice services and immediate access to the courts,” said Burzichelli (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “It is time for our court system to join the 21st century, modernize and start reaping the benefits.”
            The bill would establish in the general fund a dedicated, non-lapsing fund to be known as the “21st Century Justice Improvement Fund” into which Treasury would deposit annually a sum equal to the revenue derived from the increase in the fees collected pursuant to the bill.
            To the extent that sufficient funds are available, annual collections deposited into the “21st Century Justice Improvement Fund” would be distributed as follows:
·       The first $10.1 million would be appropriated annually to treasury to facilitate the provision of legal assistance to the poor in civil matters. This funding would supplement any funds appropriated from any other sources to Legal Services;
·       The following $17 million deposited into the fund would be appropriated annually to assist the courts in transitioning to a computerized court information system (commonly referred to as “e-Courts”);
·       Any remaining funding would be retained by the Judiciary for the sole purpose of developing, maintaining and administering information technology.
            The bill would require the Administrative Director of the Courts to submit a report to the governor, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the General Assembly describing the Judiciary’s use of the funding and its progress toward the development of a statewide digital e-court information system. The bill also would require Legal Services to submit to the governor, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the General Assembly and the state auditor a detailed financial statement describing how funds were used for the provision of legal assistance to the poor.  In addition, the use of public funds received by Legal Services would be subject to oversight by the State Auditor.
            The bill would take effect on July 1, 2013, except the Supreme Court would be permitted to immediately propose rules for adoption. The authority of the Supreme Court to supplement filing fees and other court fees would expire on the first day of the seventh month following enactment, except that any fee revisions adopted during that period would remain in effect.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Singleton Bill to Improve Enforcement of Drivers Who Illegally Pass School Buses, Enhance Penalties OK’d by Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – The Assembly Education Committee on Monday released legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) to create a pilot program that would allow schools and municipalities to use monitoring systems to help with enforcement of individuals who break the law by passing school buses that are stopped to pick up or drop off students, as well as enhance penalties for this violation.
 “I’m sure we have all at some point witnessed an impatient driver rush past a school bus that has stopped to either pick or drop off a child. These drivers are not only breaking the law, they are endangering the lives of these children,” said Singleton. “Installing these monitoring systems on school buses and toughening the penalties can help curb such reckless behavior.”
The bill (A-2150) establishes a five-year pilot program under which municipalities and school districts that own, operate or otherwise provide Type I or Type II school buses to transport students may contract with private vendors to install, operate and maintain school bus monitoring systems on their school buses to assist in the enforcement of current law which prohibits motor vehicles from passing a school bus while it is stopped to pick up or discharge students.
Under the bill, alleged violations captured by a monitoring system under the pilot program must be compiled into an evidence file and forwarded to the chief law enforcement officer of the municipality. If law enforcement determines that a violation has occurred, a summons would be issued.
The bill also amends current law to upgrade the penalties for the unlawful passing of a school bus. Currently, a first time offender is subject to a fine of $100, and up to 15 days of imprisonment or community service. Under the bill, violators would be subject to a fine of no less than $300 or more than $500.
All fine moneys and penalties collected by the court must be paid to the financial officer of the municipality where the violation occurred and must be used by the municipality for its general municipal and school district purposes, including efforts to improve the monitoring and enforcement of the unlawful passing of a school bus through the utilization of school bus monitoring systems and the provision of associated public education safety programs.
Lastly, the bill requires the chief administrator of the Motor Vehicle Commission, in consultation with the Commissioner of Education and municipalities and school districts that participate in the pilot program, to submit an interim report no later than 30 months after the start of the program, and a final report no later than 60 days after the conclusion of the program.
“Last year a video emerged of a driver in Cleveland who actually drove on the sidewalk, past a day care, to avoid waiting for a bus carrying handicapped children. Even worse, she had apparently done it more than once,” said Singleton. “The video was shot by the bus driver who was tired of the driver’s brazen disregard for the law and the safety of those children. While this may have been an extreme case, the fact is people do this all the time. School buses should be equipped with the sort of technology that can help with enforcement and discourage this dangerous and unlawful behavior.”

Vainieri Huttle & Johnson Bill Aiming to Cease Closure of State Developmental Centers Clears Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Gordon Johnson to stop the closing of two developmental health centers in the state was released Monday by an Assembly panel.
​            The bill (A-3951) would require the Governor to rescind the recommendations of the Task Force on the Closure of State Developmental Centers, which, in 2012 instructed the Department of Human Services (DHS) to close North Jersey Developmental Center followed by Woodbridge Developmental Center within the next five years.
​            "We cannot afford to shut down developmental facilities in the state," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "Doing so would compromise the care of those who require the services these centers provide. Our focus must be to work together to and provide them with the support needed to ensure their success for the sake of the residents who rely on them."
​            The bill also would establish a new task force, the "Task Force on State Developmental Centers," which is to perform a comprehensive evaluation of all of the State developmental centers and prepare recommendations that address compliance with the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Olmstead v. L.C. The decision requires that a person with a developmental disability receive services and supports in the least restrictive setting appropriate tot the person's needs.
​            "Closing even one of these facilities' would jeopardize service to the residents who truly need it and place a burden on the families who support them," said Johnson (D-Bergen). "We must avoid displacing patients or possibly interrupting important medical services by forcing them to live or travel for the medical attention they need. There is a better solution to addressing the growing need and improving quality of service at our state developmental centers."
​            Under the bill's provisions, the task force would be comprised of six members, the Commissioner of Human Services, or the commissioner's designee, and five public members appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate. The bill would take effect immediately and expire upon the submission of the task force recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature.
​            The bill cleared the Assembly Human Services Committee. It will now go to the Assembly Speaker who will decide when to post it for a floor vote.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Democratic Bill to Provide Lifetime Workers’ Compensation Benefits to Spouses of Police, Fire Personnel Killed in Line of Duty Signed Into Law

Measure  Sponsored by Quijano, Vainieri Huttle, O’Donnell, Ramos & Albano

            (TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Annette Quijano, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Jason O’Donnell, Ruben Ramos and Nelson Albano to provide lifetime workers’ compensation benefits to surviving spouses of fire and police personnel who die in the line of duty has was signed into law on Thursday.
            “These are dangerous professions with potentially deadly consequences,” said Quijano (D-Union). “Police and fire personnel should have the peace of mind that their families will be provided for if they are killed in the line of duty. The work that they do and the risks they take warrants it.”
            “Police and fire work is inherently dangerous. These firefighters and police personnel have families they have to provide for. In some cases, they may be the main breadwinners,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). ‘Making sure their families are provided for is the least we can do.”
            “Few other professions involve the daily risks faced by firefighters and police personnel. This is a burden not just on them, but their families,” said O’Donnell (D-Hudson). “They should have the comfort of knowing that if their lives are ever claimed by the job, their families will be taken care of.”
            “This important legislation to the men and women who put their lives on the line every day in our communities,” said Ramos (D-Hudson). ‘It is the right thing to do for the families of these individuals if a tragedy occurs. For their dedication to our communities, their families should be provided for.”
            “New Jersey’s firefighters and police officers perform an honorable duty in serving our communities,” said Albano (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). “And sometimes, these individuals pay the ultimate price while on the job. The service of the police and firefighters should be honored by ensuring their families continue to be taken care of in the event of their death.”
            The new law (A-2756) will provide workers' compensation benefits to surviving spouses of members of the state police or members of fire or police departments or forces who die in the line of duty during the entire period of their survivorship, even if the spouse remarries. Surviving spouses of deceased members of the state police or fire or police departments currently receive a lump sum upon any remarriage which occurs during the first 450 weeks of benefits. 
Under the law, a surviving spouse of a state trooper or member of a fire or police department who died in the line of duty will continue to receive weekly workers’ compensation benefits as long as the surviving spouse lives, regardless of remarriage. The provisions of the law do not apply to a surviving spouse of a member of the state police or member of a fire or police department who died in the line of duty if that surviving spouse received a lump sum payment or remarried prior to the effective date of the law.

DeAngelo, Coughlin, Riley & Wagner Bill to Create Commission to Study, Recommend Ways to Improve Transition of Veterans into Higher Education Now Law

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Wayne DeAngelo, Craig Coughlin, Celeste Riley and Connie Wagner to create a commission tasked with studying and making recommendations to the governor and the Legislature on how to best facilitate the successful transition of veterans into higher education has been signed into law.  
“Transitioning into college life can be an overwhelming experience for new students, never mind veterans who are still adjusting to civilian life,” said DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “This commission will be essential in helping us better understand the challenges faced by returning soldiers and the type of policies that must be put in place to help facilitate their college pursuits.”
“Many veterans have a difficult time adjusting to life after the military. Those interested in pursuing a college degree might not even know where to start or where they can go for direction,” said Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “The commission will help identify resources that can help veterans who want to attend school, as well as those who have already enrolled but may be having a hard time.”
“Many veterans are unable to find work because their military experience does not translate into the workforce,” Riley (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “The data gathered by this commission can help veterans who want to better their career prospects by going to college. It is our duty to do all we can to help our veterans provide for themselves and their families when they return home.”
            “This commission will provide information that can help the state find ways to further support our veterans transition back into civilian life,” said Wagner (D-Bergen, Passaic). “For their service and dedication in the military, the state should learn more about veterans’ need to achieve educational goals and create the life they want after the military.”
 The “Veterans Higher Education Commission” – as created by the law (A-3011) – will consist of the following 9 members: the Secretary of Higher Education, or a designee; the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, or a designee; the Adjutant General of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, or a designee; the Commissioner of Education, or a designee; and 5 members to be appointed by the Governor including a representative of an institution of higher education’s Student Veterans Organization, a representative of the New Jersey Council of County Colleges, a representative of the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities, a representative of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in New Jersey and a representative of a public research university.
            The commission will be responsible for identifying and examining:
·       policies and programs that will increase the percentage of veterans earning postsecondary certifications and degrees;
·       services of institutions of higher education that successfully transition veterans enrolled in institutions of higher education back to civilian life, such as specialized counseling and career services;
·       options for educating faculty and staff on how to best educate and support veterans enrolled in institutions of higher education who have recently returned from military service; and
·       methods and strategies to increase veterans’ awareness of the education and career opportunities and programs available to them through the State’s public and independent institutions of higher education     
            The commission is required to issue a final report to the governor and the Legislature no later than one year after its organizational meeting, and will expire upon the issuance of the report.           

Tucker, Singleton, Eustace, Lampitt, Greenwald & Wisniewski Bill to Allow Temporary Professional Licensure for Qualified Military Spouses Advances

Bill Would Help Professional Licensed Spouses Return to Work Sooner After Relocation

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Cleopatra Tucker, Troy Singleton, Timothy Eustace, Pamela Lampitt, Lou Greenwald and John Wisniewski that would allow nonresident military spouses to seek temporary licensure from certain professional and occupations licensing boards upon moving to New Jersey was released Thursday by a Senate panel.
            The bill (A-3427) would provide a “nonresident military spouse” an opportunity to seek a one-year temporary licensure with option to apply for an extension at the end of the year. Under the bill, a “nonresident military spouse” is defined as a person who does not live in New Jersey, but is married to an active duty member of the Armed Forces who has been transferred here as part of their service, is legally domiciled in the state or has moved to the state on a permanent change-of-station basis.
            “This is an opportunity for the state to help military families bridge the employment gap when transferred and see little disruption in earning an income for their family,” said Tucker (D-Essex).  “In a year or two-year time, if the individual has permanently relocated to New Jersey, this temporary license will give them time to seek permanent licensure while continuing to make a living.”
            “Frequent relocation is a part of military life.  New Jersey understands that,” said Singleton (D- Burlington). “The bill would help ease transitions for nonmilitary spouses with licensed professional careers by providing an opportunity to continue to do what they are trained for, earn an income and support their families.
            “The legislation is consistent with legislative efforts being made in other states across the nation,” said Eustace (D-Bergen, Passaic). “New Jersey should make it easier for qualified military spouses to maintain licensure and pursue employment quickly after relocation.”

            “A military family depending on two incomes to support their household does not deserve to encounter trouble in securing employment, especially, if the spouse is a licensed professional,” said Lampitt (D- Camden/Burlington).  “This bill will help smooth their transition to New Jersey and make it easier to continue to support their family.”
 “The sacrifices of our military troops are also made by the people who love them, their family,” said Greenwald (D- Camden/Burlington). “Relocating often can be hectic and disconcerting for many in the military. New Jersey should help simplify the job aspect of the transition so they may continue to support their families without too much interference.”
“Finding work in this economy is hard enough. Doing so in a new state makes the process that much more difficult,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). “Relocating at a moment’s notice is just one of the many sacrifices that our military families make for our country. The least we can do is make the job hunt easier so they can provide for their families as they settle into their new homes.”
The bill directs the several professional and occupational licensing boards in the Division of Consumer Affairs to establish criteria for the issuance of a temporary courtesy license to a nonresident military spouse so that said spouse may lawfully practice the profession or occupation regulated by that board on a temporary basis, subject to the requirements of the bill where applicable.
            A nonresident military spouse who applies for a temporary courtesy license is entitle to receive said license, if, when applicable, he or she:
·       holds a current license to practice the profession or occupation in another jurisdiction (the District of Columbia, a territory of the United States, or a state other than New Jersey) that the board determines has licensure requirements that are equivalent to those adopted by the board;
·       was engaged in the active practice of the profession or occupation in another jurisdiction for at least two of the five years immediately preceding the date of application for the temporary courtesy license, for which purpose relevant full-time experience in the discharge of official duties in the Armed Forces or an agency of the federal government is to be credited in the counting of years of service;
·       has not committed an act in another jurisdiction that would have constituted grounds for the denial, suspension, or revocation of a license to practice the profession or occupation in this State;
·       has not been disciplined, and is not the subject of an investigation of an unresolved complaint, or a review procedure or disciplinary proceeding, which was conducted by, or is pending before, a professional or occupational licensing or credentialing entity in another jurisdiction;
·       pays for, and authorizes the board to conduct, a criminal history record background check of that person;
·       pays any fee the board reasonably requires for the issuance of the temporary courtesy license;
·       satisfies the requirements of any law, rule, or regulation providing for licensure by endorsement or reciprocity;
·       has satisfied any continuing education requirements in the jurisdiction where that person holds a current license, and at the discretion of the board, completes such continuing education hours or credits as may be required by the board;
·       successfully completes a New Jersey jurisprudence examination or any other examination as required by the board; and
·       complies with any other requirements that the board may reasonably determine are necessary to effectuate the purposes of the bill.
            The revocation or suspension of a nonresident military spouse’s license in the nonresident military spouse’s state of residence or any jurisdiction in which the nonresident military spouse held licensure will automatically cause the same revocation or suspension in New Jersey if based upon a charge or commission of a criminal offense, competency, or harmful or inappropriate behavior.
            A board may require a nonresident military spouse who has not been actively practicing the profession in another jurisdiction during the two years immediately preceding the application to undergo additional training, testing, mentoring, monitoring or education should it deem it necessary.
             The bill was released 12-0 by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.