TRENTON – Bills covering some of the more volatile issues were dealt with this week: sexual conversion therapy, medical marijuana for minors, logging on state lands, and homeless shelters.
Gov. Chris Christie kicked off the week by signing a bill that bans attempts at so-called sexual conversion therapy. It prevents licensed counselors from attempting to “turn’’ gay minors straight.
“It’s amazing, it’s a huge step,” Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality, said, adding that California is the only other state to have passed such a law.
Later that day, the Senate voted to concur with Christie’s recommendations made last week when he issued a conditional veto of a bill that would allow minors easier access to medical marijuana.
On the one hand, Christie lifted restrictions on the strains of medical marijuana that a treatment center could grow, and he OK’d the usage of the medicine in edible form.
However, he kept in place provisions that require parents to obtain concurrence from either a pediatrician or a psychiatrist if one of the two participates in the state’s medical marijuana program, and that could be a hurdle.
Advocates of the program say few pediatricians or psychiatrists are signing up, and that is not expected to change dramatically in the near future.
Still, one of the sponsors, Sen. Nicholas Scutari, said he was encouraged by the direction of the governor’s office.
Before Monday was over, the governor’s office took action on more legislation, signing seven bills and vetoing 11 others.
He turned back a bill that would have created a forest stewardship program on state-owned lands. Christie, in his CV message, was concerned about a provision in the bill that would have taken supervision of such a program out of the hands of the Department of Environmental Protection and handed it over to a non-profit stewardship agency.
One of the main sponsors, Assemblyman John McKeon, said he wondered whether the bill could be salvaged, because he considered the idea of an independent monitor essential to a fair handling of the program.
Another bill that got deep-sixed would have allowed development on piers in so-called high-hazard coastal areas. Right now, such development is prohibited outside of Atlantic City, and this bill would have essentially allowed it on a few sites in Hudson County.
However, its opponents lambasted it in committee earlier this year, saying it defied common sense in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy that the state would even consider allowing buildings on piers in this fashion.
Its backers unsuccessfully hailed it as an economic driver in a post-recession, post-Sandy New Jersey that would limit construction to existing piers under conditions that would withstand severe storms.
Two related bills that drew CVs involved when homeless shelters can and cannot close their doors to folks.
One bill would have required shelters to admit someone with a mental illness unless it could be shown the person presented a danger to others. The other bill would have barred shelters from refusing to provide services for at least a minimum period of time to those in need.
The bills came out of work done by Sen. Dick Codey, who posed as a homeless person to draw attention to the plight of those who need assistance.
Codey said that at first glance it appeared as if the CV changes were minimal, but he would need more time to review the governor’s message.
A bill that whittles five tax incentive/jobs growth programs to two – the Economic Opportunity Act – was passed by the Senate Monday.
But this bill has been gone over and amended so much that one of its prime backers, Sen. Ray Lesniak, said that it is flawed and rendered useless for some regions of the state.
He said the Assembly made it clear that if the Senate had introduced any further amendments and sent it back to the lower chamber it would be dead.
Opponents of the bill’s current makeup are hoping Christie will veto it, thus laying the groundwork for changes.
Christie named a new superintendent for Camden schools this week, a critical step for a troubled district under state supervision.
Paymon Rouhanifard, a native of Iran who overcame life-threatening hardship to come to the United States, will take the reins of a district that has seen numerous problems in recent years, including high student dropout rates and teacher vacancies. Twenty-three of the state’s 26 lowest-rated schools are in Camden.
“No longer are we going to allow any of the children of Camden to be failed by an education system that didn’t work for them,’’ Christie said in naming Rouhanifard.
Rouhanifard has worked in school systems in Newark and in West Harlem.