Scutari pledges an open mind on bid to repeal referendum kill bill

Two supporters of narrowly-passed legislation that critics deride as the “referendum kill bill” defended the new law this week, but did not entirely rule out supporting state Sen. Loretta Weinberg’s legislation to repeal it.

“I sort of doubt it, but I always want to remain open-minded,” state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden), one the legislation’s prime sponsors, said on Monday. 

The controversial law, passed with the minimum number of votes in both legislative houses last month and signed by Gov. Jon Corzine despite a previous announcement that he would veto it, forces groups that want certain changes the form of a municipal governments to wait 10 years between attempting to enact them through ballot questions.  Current law allows groups to petition for ballot questions very two to four years, depending on each municipality’s circumstances. 

The legislation was widely seen as a way of stopping a college student-based New Brunswick group called Empower Our Neighborhoods — which lost a ballot question last November to change the way the city elects its council from all at-large to a partly ward-based system — from trying again in 2011. 

“I’ve been in the City of Linden and the form of government has never changed, and we had drastically different administrations.  I’m not sure why it would be necessary,” said Scutari.

Weinberg’s legislation would force a five-year waiting period on government change ballot questions if a referendum has been successful, and revert back to the previous 2-4 year wait periods if it did not pass, allowing Empower Our Neighborhoods to try again in two years. 

State Sen. Robert Smith (D-Piscataway), who represents New Brunswick and whose running mate, Joseph Egan (D-New Brunswick) sits on its council, said that the city’s voters were suffering referendum fatigue after another recent ballot question on a change to the city’s school board.

“The comments that I’ve received from Mayor Cahill is that this is not helpful to the town trying to deliver services, that everybody is in an uproar and that there should be some reasonable period of time,” he said.  “Now whether 10 years is reasonable or five years is reasonable, that’s questionable.  But I would hope that Senator Weinberg would consult with the Mayor of New Brunswick to see what the practical concerns are and whoever else is affected by it.”