Week in Review: May 31, 2013

Emotional testimony was given by both officials and residents of Roxbury Township at the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, convincing them to support a bill that would shut down the controversial Fenimore landfill.

The bill. S2167, sponsored by Sen. Anthony Bucco and (up until Thursday) Sen. Joe Pennacchio, calls on the Department of Environmental Protection to take over and shut down the landfill, in order to, according to residents’ testimony, prevent it from emitting noxious odors that prevent them from doing a lot of outdoor activities.

An attorney for the owner of the landfill countered those claims, saying the odors don’t pose any public health hazard.

Bucco’s bill, which Sen. Bob Smith (D-17) of Piscataway, needs a lot more detail on and cleaning up to prevent lawsuits, will be voted on and released on June 13 by the committee.

Buono endorsement

The Sierra Club environmental organization unsurprisingly endorsed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono.

The club mentioned the numerous diversions from clean energy funds by the Christie administration, and what they feel is a very spotty overall environmental protection record, as their reasons.

Bromance resumes

President Barack Obama and Gov. Chris Christie rekindled their bromance seven months after they embraced following Superstorm Sandy, by taking a tour of the rebuilt Jersey Shore towns that were hit hard.

The president and the governor both said the reopening of businesses and the residents’ overall resilience is proof that Jersey is indeed “Stronger Than The Storm.”

Affordable Housing funds

The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court this week ruled that it will leave the injunction on the state being able to seize unused affordable housing trust fund money from municipalities. However, it did give the state the go-ahead to continue pursuing those funds by contacting municipalities.

On Rutgers University’s controversial pick for athletic director, Julie Hermann, Christie said he’s going to take a mostly hands off approach, saying he was not going to act as “super president” or “chief recruiter” for the state’s largest public university system.

“Let Rutgers handle this,” he said.

Hermann has come under fire after a group of former volleyball players at the University of Tennessee, where Hermann was a coach, signed a letter accusing her of mental cruelty, and engaging in verbal  abuse.

Gun reform

The state Senate passed several gun reform bills.

They include:

S2723: A bill revising statutes concerning firearms purchaser identification cards and handgun purchase permits; makes handgun purchase permit valid for four years.

S1133: A bill adding certain weapons offenses to the list of crimes with bail restrictions under current law. The bill adds the crimes of unlawful possession of a weapon, and has a conviction already for crimes of the first- through third-degree.

The bill excludes some weapons: unloaded rifle or shotgun or a BB gun, air gun, or spring gun.

S1279: A bill upgrading the penalty for unlawfully transferring a firearm to an underage person.

S2178/A3659: A bill revising the definition of destructive device to include weapons of 50 caliber or greater.

S2467/A3668: A bill prohibiting state-administered pension fund investment in manufacturers of firearms that are prohibited in New Jersey for civilian use.

S2485/A3687: A bill disqualifying a person named on federal Terrorist Watchlist from obtaining firearms identification card or permit to purchase handgun.

S2492/A3717: A bill requiring the submission of mental health records to National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

S2801: A bill expanding the five-year statute of limitations for prosecuting firearms theft to 10 years. The original bill would have eliminated the statute of limitations altogether.

Other bills

Outside of gun reform, the Senate passed several other bills. Among the highlights:

S71: Passed 40-0. A bill establishing a “Yellow Dot Program” to provide emergency responders with critical health information about people 62 years old or older.

In his conditional veto, Gov. Chris Christie said a statewide program is unnecessary, citing a successful program in Mount Laurel. He suggested clarifying that programs can be established at the local level.

S1263/A1271: Passed 38-1. Allows corporation business tax credit and gross income tax credit for wages paid to qualified interns.

This bill was conditionally vetoed, and the Assembly concurred with the governor’s recommendations earlier this month.  Gov. Chris Christie said there was no evidence this bill would spur long-term employment growth, and recommended the Labor Department study the prospects of such a program and similar tax incentive efforts first.

S1450/A1578:  Passed 21-17. This bill creates a presumption that a truck driver is an employee – not an independent contractor – of a trucking company.

S1501: Passed 34-2. Requires a public school district to provide a daily recess period for students in grades kindergarten through 5.

S1773/A3222: Passed 37-1. The bill requires operators of scrap metal businesses to electronically submit records of scrap metal dealings for 18 months, amended down from five years.

S2245/A3206: Passed 39-1. Expands neighborhood revitalization state tax credit to include gross income taxpayers; increases annual total amount of tax credits allowable from $10 million to $15 million.

Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed the bill because of the effect it would have on the budget because it would remove $5 million annually from the budget without identifying corresponding budget cuts. He recommended keeping the limit at $10 million.

The Assembly concurred earlier this month.

S2620: Passed 25-14. This bill amends current law concerning funding for shore protection projects. The bill directs the Department of Environmental Protection to develop criteria that includes provisions providing for public access walkways spanning towns.

S2680: Passed 37-3. Allows development on piers in coastal high hazard areas in certain urban municipalities.  The bill only applies to piers already in existence when the bill becomes law.

Currently, this type of development is prohibited in urban areas outside Atlantic City. Its backers say it is a tool for economic recovery post-Sandy, but environmentalists warn it knowingly will put people in harm’s way.

Inmates receiving public assistance

The State Comptroller’s office released a report this week saying that some 22,000 people received $23 million in public assistance in the form of food stamps, unemployment benefits, and other programs.

The respective state agencies said they are looking to make improvements to better cross-check data, looking to make software improvements and recoup the funds.

Week in Review: May 31, 2013