Morning News Digest: August 9, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
NJEA releases list of endorsements
A self-proclaimed vigorous door pounding effort on Twitter didn’t sway the brass at the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), who denied a thumbs up to Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera, (D-4).
Releasing their endorsements this morning, the NJEA decided not to back a candidate in LD 4.
A South Jersey Democrat running in a special election to secure her seat, Mosquera belongs to the political outfit that drove pension and benefits reform, charter expansion and teacher tenure alterations under the Statehouse auspices of Senate President Steve Sweeney, (D-3), infuriating the NJEA in the process. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Feds: In North Bergen, Kennell took payment for fraud
The feds arrested the director of operations for the Housing Authority of North Bergen this morning on charges of extorting employees of a maintenance company contracted by the authority, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
John T. “Jack” Kennell, 49, is charged by Complaint with one count of obstructing and affecting commerce by extortion under color of official right and induced by fear of economic harm, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Kennell is scheduled to make his initial appearance today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy L. Waldor in Newark federal court.
According to the complaint unsealed today: While the director of operations for the NBHA, Kennell used his official position to extort cash payments from employees of a company (“Company 1”) that provided repair and grounds maintenance services. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Mahwah nonpartisan event for children turns into political dust-up
Like so much in public life, it was an event for the children – that fast devolved into finger pointing politics and an angry atmosphere of confronted and affronted public men.
Democratic Party Freeholder candidate Tracy Zur stood onstage Friday addressing the Youth Leadership Academy of the Mahwah Municipal Alliance after a warm introduction by Mahwah Mayor William LaForet.
A former prosecutor and judge, Zur spoke about leadership to the crowd of adults and children, which included the daughter of Republican incumbent Freeholder Robert Hermansen, who’s Zur’s chief target in the November election. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Christie seeking outside audits on halfway houses
Governor Christie is countering state lawmakers’ push for more legislative review of New Jersey’s $65 million network of privatized halfway houses by calling for new independent audits.
The Republican governor made changes to a bill passed by legislators in June through a conditional veto announced by his office Wednesday. His changes have the blessing of the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May.
The original bill called for the Legislature’s auditor to review state contracts with the private halfway house operators after the first year of contracts over $100,000.
Christie’s conditional veto seeks to have the reviews conducted by an independent auditor, and not begin until the contracts end. (Reitmeyer, The Record)
Christie seeks revisions to tiger-protection law
Gov. Chris Christie has conditionally vetoed a proposal that would have protected wild tigers from being exploited for their valued body parts.
The governor says the measure should cover exotic species in addition to tigers.
Christie recommended that the Democratic-led Legislature consent to having a task force look into the illegal use and trade of endangered and exotic animals and draft a comprehensive bill.
Sen. Ray Lesniak, the measure’s primary sponsor, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he’s disappointed Christie didn’t sign the tiger-protection bill and create a task force to study other species. But the Union Democrat says he’s hopeful more comprehensive animal protections will result. (Associated Press)
Christie vetoes bill that would have eased tough rules for gestational surrogates
Gov. Chris Christie today vetoed a bill that would have relaxed New Jersey’s strict surrogate parenting law, saying the state hadn’t yet answered the “profound” questions that surround creating a child through a contract.
According to the governor’s statement explaining the veto obtained by The Star-Ledger, “Permitting adults to contract with others regarding a child in such a manner unquestionably raises serious and significant issues.”
“In contrast to traditional surrogacy, a gestational surrogate birth does not use the egg of the carrier,” the governor wrote. “In this scenario, the gestational carrier lacks any genetic connection to the baby, and in some cases, it is feasible that neither parent is genetically related to the child. Instead, children born to gestational surrogates are linked to their parents by contract.” (Livio, The Star-Ledger)
Christie administration awards $3M in grants for law enforcement on most dangerous N.J. highways
The Christie administration today awarded $3 million in grants to bolster law enforcement on the state’s most dangerous highways and to pay for new bike paths.
A total of 53 municipalities will share in $2 million to crack down on speeding and other driving infractions on 14 10-mile segments of highway determined to be the most prone to accidents, the state Department of Transportation said. (Baxter, The Star-Ledger)
Gov jabs at NYPD again over spying on Muslims
Gov. Chris Christie has reassured Muslim leaders he remains troubled by the way the New York Police Department conducted surveillance of Muslim communities in New Jersey , even though his administration has said it was legal , but again stopped short of criticizing the spying itself.
The governor has said little publicly about his administration’s findings in late May that the NYPD did not violate state laws in its multistate surveillance, which included infiltrating student groups, videotaping mosque-goers or collecting license plates when they prayed. The findings angered Muslim leaders. (Henry, Associated Press)
Weinberg: Christie CV of hospital bill shows administration’s true feelings concerning transparency
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, sponsor of hospital transparency legislation that drew a conditional veto from the governor, sharply criticized his actions this afternoon.
“Time and time again, we’ve heard the mantra from this administration that it is committed to greater government transparency. And time and time again, their actions have failed to live up to the rhetoric,” she said in a release. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Mobile gaming coming to Atlantic City
Adults who patronize Atlantic City’s casinos will soon be able to gamble at the pool or while waiting in line at the buffet.
Gov. Chris Christie has signed legislation increasing gambling options to include hand-held devices.
Mobile gambling will be restricted to the casino property.
Democratic Assemblyman John Burzichelli of West Deptford, who co-sponsored the bill, said hand-held gambling devices are a smart adaptation of technology by the casinos that will help keep them competitive in an increasingly crowded market. (Associated Press)
N.J. patients can now register for medical pot
New Jersey patients with doctors’ recommendations to use marijuana to treat certain health conditions can register for identification cards beginning Thursday as the state prepares for its first legal dispensary to open next month.
“It’s the first time the department will be interacting directly with potential patients and their caregivers,” state Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The announcement comes as the state’s first legal dispensary, Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair, N.J., grows its first crop of legal pot for patients. O’Dowd said it’s expected to be ready and fully licensed to open sometime in September.
Seventeen states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for certain patients, even though selling and using the drug remains a violation of federal law. (Associated Press)
Cerf to lose two top aides—deputy commissioner and chief of staff
Just as education commissioner Chris Cerf is settling into his title, if not the job itself, two of his top lieutenants are leaving his side at the department.
Last week, Andrew Smarick announced he would be leaving the post of deputy commissioner to return to Washington, D.C., and the world of advocacy and think tanks that he left to come to New Jersey two years ago.
Yesterday, David Hespe said he will be depart as Cerf’s chief of staff to become president of Burlington County College. Hespe, himself a former state commissioner from a decade ago, said it was a position he could not pass up.”This is a dream job for me, and every now and then dream jobs come true,” Hespe said of the community college presidency. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Assembly committee says towns should be allowed to keep affordable housing funds
Municipalities should not be forced to surrender their affordable housing funds to the state until the Council on Affordable Housing meets and makes decisions on how to move forward, said members of the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee yesterday. The hearing was to discuss the New Jersey’s demand that the money previously set aside to build local housing should be returned to the state’s coffers.
Sean Thompson, acting executive director of COAH, last month demanded that towns give the state back the $142 million that is supposed to pay for low-cost housing within their borders. Yesterday, Chuck Richmond, a deputy commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs who has acted on behalf of COAH testified on the administration’s behalf, which led to several testy exchanges with lawmakers. (O’Dea, NJ Spotlight)
N.J. towns appeal to lawmakers to keep affordable housing funds
Mayors and other municipal representatives pleaded to keep their towns’ money for affordable housing during an Assembly committee hearing Wednesday.
The hearing looked into the state’s demand that towns give up any affordable housing money that has not been “committed” to housing projects. New Jersey says the uncommitted funds total $161 million – money the state budget, signed into law in late June, has already appropriated. If the state does not get that money, it will have to cut spending, dip into the surplus or find another way to keep the budget in balance.
Municipal officials at Wednesday’s hearing said it was never clear what it meant for money to be “committed,” and the state is taking funds already been designated for particular projects. Giving up the money would kill plans that are now in the works, the officials said. (Linhorst, The Record)
$750 million bond for NJ college construction will be on November ballot
Supporters of a $750-million bond initiative to fund building and renovation projects at New Jersey’s colleges and universities will soon launch a campaign to get public support for the initiative, set to appear on the ballot in November.
The referendum is the first for capital improvements at the schools since 1988. It was signed into law by Governor Christie on Wednesday. The governor also signed another bill that will make it easier for public colleges and universities in the state to enter into public-private partnerships for construction on campus.
Legislators and school leaders say the measures were needed to address a long-standing lack of state capital investment in the schools. Most schools have borrowed heavily to expand as enrollment has exploded since the last bond referendum passed. (Alex, The Record)
Assemblyman Robert Schroeder may face federal sanctions, source says
State Assemblyman Robert Schroeder, who was charged last week with writing nearly $400,000 in bad checks, may now be facing sanctions from the federal government, The Star-Ledger learned today.
Any action could be a fatal blow to one of Schroeder’s companies, All Points International Distributors of Hillsdale, which sells tents and prefabricated buildings to the military. The company has received more than $33 million in U.S. government contracts since 2005, mainly from the Department of Defense.
The problems facing the Bergen County Republican and All Points have been referred to the inspector general of the U.S. General Services Administration, according to an administration source familiar with the matter. (Baxter and Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)
New state aid to “growth” schools a boon to S. Jersey
Jen Cavallaro’s children had chocolate-chip pancakes with whipped cream for breakfast Wednesday.
The occasion? On Day 781 of Cavallaro’s effort to secure more state money for her rapidly growing Swedesboro-Woolwich School District, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) had given her a call.
There was news on a bill Sweeney had sponsored – and Cavallaro had lobbied for – to send $4.1 million to so-called “growth” districts statewide. Last year, Cavallaro confronted Gov. Christie about the measure at a town-hall meeting, and he indicated that he would approve it. But in January, when it came to his desk, he didn’t sign it.
The bill was introduced again, and passed both chambers of the Legislature. And on Tuesday, Sweeney told Cavallaro early Wednesday, it was finally signed into law. (Katz, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno visits Camden on an agriculture – yes, agriculture – tour
When Kim Guadagno visited Camden on Wednesday, her getup – a white lab coat and hairnet – meant business.
The attire permitted the lieutenant governor to examine the inner workings of a specialty food processing facility. The trip to Comarco Products in Waterfront South marked Stop No. 2 of a recently launched “agribusiness tour,” the latest in Guadagno’s business excursions across New Jersey.
Several workers hastily peeled plump eggplants as Guadagno – along with Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd and state Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher – started their walk through the noisy factory, which prepares and flash-freezes vegetables and sauces to sell to food distributors across the country. (Fichera, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Romney stirs up N.J. wedding party
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney got an unusually warm welcome when he arrived in Lakewood on Wednesday afternoon for another quick fundraising event in New Jersey.
The former Massachusetts governor’s motorcade was passing by an Orthodox Jewish wedding on the way to a ballroom in this heavily Jewish section of Ocean County when the bridal party abandoned wedding pictures and began screaming and chasing after his motorcade.
At least 10 members of the party tried to reach Romney, with one man trying to scale a wooden fence. A Romney spokesman later confirmed that the bride and the groom were Romney supporters. (Campisi, The Record)
Romney nets $2M at 2 Shore fundraisers
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney told an audience of hundreds of supporters Wednesday, which included a large contingent of local Jewish Republicans, that the key to a successful economy lies in American individualism.
Romney said small business owners are the key to building the American economy, and he criticized President Barack Obama as “being so far out of touch with the American character.”
Under heavy security, Romney arrived at the Lake Terrace banquet hall Wednesday to meet with about 500 local supporters and collect at least $1,000 per person at a fundraising event. (Bonafide, Asbury Park Press)
Tax break for specialized biotechs would have limited, but welcome, impact on N.J.
While a federal measure to provide tax incentives for companies manufacturing chemical products from renewable sources would only benefit a handful of biotechnology firms in New Jersey, an industry leader said the impact of the tax credit would trickle down to other businesses and create jobs here.
“It sounds like fewer than 10 companies in New Jersey would qualify for the tax credit, with DSM being the big guy — but if DSM generates more of this type of product, they’ll create jobs as a result of that,” said Debbie Hart, president of BioNJ. “And if the companies taking advantage of the credit pass their savings on to the companies they supply their product to, then those companies could hire 10 people, and then those people would go out to local stores and restaurants and indirectly create even more jobs.” (Eder, NJBIZ)
New Jersey launches jobs website Jobs4Jersey.com
Can New Jersey pair its many job-seeking residents with open job slots?
State and industry leaders Tuesday unveiled a matchmaking website created by the state to pair job seekers and employers by skill sets — a cost-free service for users that took two years to create.
The new online portal, found at Jobs4Jersey.com, may have to compete with bigger job-search sites online — and has bowed to the reality of listing jobs in New York and Philadelphia. (Fletcher, The Record)
Horizon joins multistate network in expanding Medicare Advantage offering
By tapping into a new, 31-state network of Blue Cross plans, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey is poised to expand sales of its Medicare Advantage program to employers seeking Medicare Advantage products for their retirees that offer enhanced coverage compared with traditional Medicare. Joining this multistate Blue Cross network enables Horizon to compete with health insurers like Aetna and UnitedHealthcare that operate nationwide and already provide multistate Medicare Advantage products to employers. (Fitzgerald, NJBIZ)
Grid operator says it wants to cancel two mammoth power line projects
The operator of the nation’s largest electric transmission grid is proposing to cancel two huge projects to expand high-voltage lines in the Mid-Atlantic, a step boosting the hopes of foes of expanding power lines through the New Jersey Highlands.
The staff of PJM Interconnection yesterday recommended that a transmission upgrade stretching from West Virginia to Maryland, as well as a 150-mile project from northern Virginia to southern Maryland, no longer be pursued.
In arriving at its conclusion, the staff said grid conditions have changed since the lines were originally planned. Its updated analysis no longer shows a need for the lines to maintain grid reliability. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Growing burden of student debt worries N.J. families, affects economy
It took about two decades for Catherine Kalipetis-Stone to pay off the student loan debt she racked up attending Glassboro State College following her graduation from Fort Lee High School.
She finally finished at age 42. Now, she says, it’s overwhelming to think that the cycle is starting anew with her daughter, an undergraduate at Montclair State University.
“Honestly, it’s terrifying,” said her daughter Leah Stone, who hopes to get a master’s degree in social work. “I’m $30,000 in debt and I’m not even done yet.” (Alex, The Record)
Court: Tuition aid denial was wrong
A U.S.-born high school student was wrongfully denied state tuition assistance based on the fact that her mother is an illegal immigrant, a New Jersey appeals court ruled Wednesday.
The appellate division of Superior Court determined that residency requirements pertain only to the student, finding that the applicant, identified by her initials, A.Z., was a U.S. citizen who had spent most of her life in New Jersey.
The ruling could affect thousands of American-born New Jersey students who were denied college tuition aid based on their parents’ immigration status, according to the American Civil Liberties Union and a Rutgers University legal clinic that filed the appeal on A.Z.’s behalf. (Henry, Associated Press)
Christi approves about $534M for environmental infrastructure projects
Gov. Chris Christie signed off on several bills that appropriate funds for environmental infrastructure projects. (Arco, State Street Wire)
Guadagno signs Purple Heart Memorial Highway bill; County ID cards for vets bill now law
Acting Governor Kim Guadagno signed legislation today designating a portion of State Highway Route 42 in Camden and Gloucester Counties as the “Route 42 Purple Heart Memorial Highway.”
The Purple Heart is a medal awarded to U.S. service members injured during active duty. It’s the country’s oldest military decoration established by George Washington in 1782. (Staff, State Street Wire)
Guardianship uniformity bill signed
Legislation to establish uniform procedures to address interstate conflicts regarding adult guardianship issues has been signed into law.
The bill, S1755, had many sponsors on both sides of the aisle, including Sens. Fred Madden, (D-4), Turnersville, and Dawn Marie Addiego, (R-8), Medford. (Staff, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Inquirer/Daily News want to shed $8M from Guild
The owners of the Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News announced the company is seeking to shed $8 million from the company’s Guild through wage cuts and buyouts.
The company announced plans to cut $28 million from all its union contracts and seeks to achieve the $8 million in cuts from the Guild by instituting 13 percent wage cuts and offering buyout packages, according to The Philly Post. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Don’t Forget the Guys!
While her husband spent the sweltering summer of 1776 pushing for a new American government, Abigail Adams famously reminded him: “Don’t forget the ladies.” That certainly seems to be a rallying cry for the current U.S. Senate race in New Jersey.
The bottom line, as described in more detail here, is that GOP challenger Joe Kyrillos took a week in August to make a public push for the “women’s vote.” The campaign of incumbent Senator Bob Menendez immediately pushed back, saying that Kyrillos’ legislative voting record was poor on “women’s issues.” (Murray for PolitickerNJ)
New Jersey Supreme Court to help criminals get a fresh start
Even a minor brush with the criminal justice system can have a devastating effect on the rest of a person’s life. With this in mind, the New Jersey Supreme Court is seeking to make it easier to expunge a criminal record in New Jersey, or at least make the decision less subjective.
Expungement refers to the process whereby criminal records such as complaints, warrants, arrests, and convictions are withdrawn from public access. Although the records are not permanently destroyed and remain available to the courts, prosecutors and probation officers, the criminal proceedings are “deemed not to have occurred” for most purposes. Most importantly, the individual is no longer required to answer “yes” when asked about a criminal record on an application for employment, an apartment, or professional licensure. (Scarinci for PolitickerNJ)
Red-light cameras still a money grab
And so the traffic engineers went forward and reported back to the people who sign their paychecks that the red light cameras are working correctly, and Gov. Chris Christie’s transportation folks gave the green light to continue use of the hanging bandits.
The word from Christie: If you don’t want to get tickets, don’t run red lights. It would be nice if the world were that simple.
Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, wasn’t buying it. He brought in a professional engineer from out of state, one who doesn’t have to depend on the local pols for a job. The engineer, Joe Bahen, and an assistant used laser equipment to check vehicle speeds and video to determine how long the yellow light was yellow. (Ingle, Asbury Park Press)