Weekly Roundup: March 11-15

TRENTON – Some interesting bills were heard in committees this past week, focusing on tenants’ rights to possible development in the Highlands, to a bill calling for more severe penalties on child porn possession, to the need for more money toward various social service programs.

And today, a battle brewed over whether a proposal to change how and when people could receive their unemployment checks is the right move.

Sen. Barbara Buono said the proposal will pose another barrier for those counting on the checks, but the Christie Administration said it’s not proposing anything substantially different.

Tax incentive plans legislation

In what many committee members are calling a major move to spur the state’s economy by creating more jobs and targeting smart growth, the Senate and Assembly economic growth committee released sweeping legislation that consolidates the state’s five tax incentive/credit programs into two – ERG and GROW NJ.

By doing so, Assemblyman Al Coutinho, (D-28), Newark, said the program is open to more businesses to pursue smaller scale projects and create some jobs in the process. But some environmentalists cried foul, saying the plan would allow for some development in the Highlands. But Coutinho said not so.

Budget Committee

The Assembly Budget Committee on Tuesday took testimony from numerous nonprofit and social service groups calling for greater state aid for their respective groups to help the most needy individuals in society.

While grateful for the funding received, as usual, more was requested for things like drug courts, Medicaid reimbursements, skilled nursing, gambling addiction, and more.

Budget Committee officials stressed that some priorities will have to be taken into account.

Lottery privatization

The Assembly State Government Committee released a bill that would require legislative approval of a deal to privatize certain functions of the State Lottery.

The somewhat emotional battle has pitted Treasury Department officials against mom and pop convenience store owners who fear a loss of sales from less Lottery tickets coming their way.

The Communications Workers of America has come out against the proposal again, as many of its workers who work for the state Lottery could lose their jobs if the proposal goes through.

Gov. Christie has said he intends to move forward with the privatization plan.

Tenants’ rights

With regards to tenants’ rights, the committees released legislation giving tenants the ability to collect attorney’s fees from their landlords if the tenants win their cases.

Various groups representing landlords and housing authorities opposed the legislation, saying, among other things, it provides a disincentive for landlords and tenants to reach a settlement.

Nonetheless, it was released.

Dog baiting

The Assembly Judiciary Committee released a bill that would make dog fighting and dog baiting a crime on par with racketerring, with major jail sentences and financial penalties, was unanimously supported by the committee and by various animal groups.