Liquor license bill clears Senate committee

TRENTON – The Senate Law and Public Safety Committee released a bill today that would allow issuance of liquor licenses in areas that usually would be much too small to have them.

S1904, released 4-1 with Sen. Christopher Bateman voting no, would permit licenses in what is being called a “qualifying development project,’’ a real estate development project located in a municipality having fewer than 1,000 residents and in a redevelopment area established by the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.

The bill’s opponents say the bill is legislation tailored to suit a narrow interest.

Currently, a municipality is limited to issuing one plenary retail consumption license for each 3,000 of its population and one plenary retail distribution license for each 7,500 of its population. This limitation has resulted in a shortage of licenses in some small municipalities, according to the bill.  

Todd Schefler, executive vice president of development with Catellus, told the committee his company is undertaking a mixed-use development in the tiny area of Teterboro and already has spent $20 million on asbestos removal and other work.

He said their development would create 1,360 permanent jobs and 280 construction jobs.

But because Teterboro has a large daytime population but a census population of 65 current law would make purchasing a liquor license for their project “a practical impossibility,” he said.

However, Guy Gregg, representing the N.J. Restaurant Association, said that the Catellus project does not meet a litmus test for drawing enough economic activity.  The bill, which would grant a license for every 50,000 square feet of improvements, is essentially “two Olive Gardens,’’ he said by way of illustration.

“It’s hard for us to see this as anything other than special legislation for a specific developer in an area that once was industrial but is now deemed commercial,’’ he said.

And William Pascrell III of Princeton Public Affairs Group testified on behalf of restaurateur Doherty Enterprises, which employs 5,000 people at 97 locations in New Jersey.

He said that not only is the bill “special legislation’’ for one party, it may be unconstitutional.

Opponents said this narrow bill would devalue the liquor licenses traditional license holders had to purchase.

The committee dealt with other bills.

S436: Released 4-1 with Sen. Christopher Bateman voting no. This bill would expand the state’s DNA database to also include DNA samples from persons convicted of disorderly persons offenses.

The bill also establishes that a person who refuses to submit a blood or biological sample is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree, punishable by imprisonment of up to 18 months, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

S921: Released 5-0. This bill requires the Treasury to donate surplus police vehicles to emergency services operations, including volunteer fire companies, fire police associations, first aid, ambulance, rescue squads, and search and rescue squads.

The department would notify eligible volunteer organizations when a vehicle is available.  The volunteer organization could then request that ownership be transferred to it.  If a request is made by more than one organization, a lottery will be held and the vehicle will be given to the winner of the lottery.  The bill specifies that these volunteer organizations are to be granted the vehicles free of charge.

S1226: Released 4-1, with Republican Christopher Bateman voting no. This bill establishes regulations for teen nights, social events held for individuals under the legal drinking age at establishments, other than bowling alleys, that are primarily devoted to the sale of alcohol for on-premises consumption. 

The bill requires the licensee to arrange for security provided by police officers at a ratio of at least one officer to 150 attendees.

Licensees are also required to prohibit persons: 1) over 18 years of age from attending the events and 2) under 15 years of age from attending the events unless they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.  This bill also requires criminal history background checks of all current and prospective employees who will or do work at a teen night, and prohibits individuals required to register as sex offenders under Megan’s Law from serving as an employee at a teen night.

Steve Finkel of the Attorney General’s Office raised logistical problems for the employers, and said that at $44 per individual, the required background checks would be problematic.

Also, he pointed out that Alcohol Beverage Control regulates licensees, but no one regulates teen nights.  No one has jurisdiction, and this bill would create a need either for a new state agency, or possibly the AG’s office, to oversee them.

The amended bill specifies the licensee bears the cost of hiring the security.

S1878: Released 5-0. This bill enhances the penalties for falsely incriminating another person in criminal activity from a fourth-degree to either a third-degree or second-degree crime. 

A crime of the fourth degree is punishable by up to 18 months imprisonment, a fine of $10,000, or both. 

A crime of the third degree is punishable by three to five years imprisonment, a fine of up to $15,000, or both.  A crime of the second degree is punishable by five to ten years in prison, a fine of up to $150,000, or both.

Sponsor Sen. Donald Norcross said that during a serial rapist investigation in Camden allegations surfaced of another incident that proved false, an incident that Camden law enforcement representatives said is quite serious for a police department as undermanned and overworked as Camden’s is. 

The time wasted investigating a false report with limited resources merits harsher penalties, they said.