Senate passage: state-forest harvest, family health care, ‘fracking’ ban, more

TRENTON – After passing the budget, the Senate moved swiftly through numerous bills, including measures to appropriate money for family health care, forest harvesting and turning foreclosed properties into affordable housing.

A575/S253: This bill, which seeks to ban the disposal or treatment of hydraulic fracturing waste in New Jersey, passed 30-5 with bipartisan backing.

S1085: This is a state forest stewardship bill that would establish a timber harvest program, and it passed, 36-3. It is controversial because although its backers said an active program is necessary to protect forests’ future, its opponents decry it as a giveaway to private interests that will place sensitive areas at risk.

S1566: This bill expedites the process of residential property foreclosure to develop affordable housing. Sen. Ray Lesniak said that foreclosed homes are the biggest drag on economic recovery and in some cases property values are depressed 15 to 20 percent. It passed 21-18.

S788/A3204: This is a supplemental appropriation of $7.45 million for family planning services and extends coverage to people at 200 percent of the federal poverty level. It passed 27-11.

S1928/A3405: This bill, passed unanimously, removes gift cards’ unspent money from the escheat law.  This became an issue after the state said it would start claiming the money that otherwise would go to the card issuer and heated up after American Express said it would no longer issue gift cards in New Jersey as a result.

A1608/S157: The so-called “Janet’s Law,” which mandates public schools have on-site automatic external defibrillators, passed unanimously, 40-0.

A763/S2062: Passed 24-11, this so-called “e-court” bill provides some funding for Legal Services of New Jersey for low-income residents by revising court fees and in addition, it seeks to fund a computer-based filing system. Although hailed as a necessary updating of the state’s legal system by its supporters, opponents decry the fact that it assesses fees on the very people who can least afford them.

S69: This bill increases penalties for texting while driving, and passed 38-0. Fines for a first offense would rise from $100 to $200, to $400 for a  second offense, and to $600 for a third offense. In addition, driver’s licenses could be suspended for a third or subsequent offense.

A1277/S641: This bill increases output limits for so-called microbreweries and brewpubs. It passed 39-0.

S589: This bill, which passed 39-0, tightens rules on so-called “fake farms,’’ in which non-farmers take advantage of favorable assessments to have lower tax bills.

Senate passage: state-forest harvest, family health care, ‘fracking’ ban, more