TRENTON – After releasing two major reform bills and avoiding the phrase “toolkit,” Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee Chairman John McKeon (D-West Orange) said, “The systemic reform is coming.”
The most important reform of the day, he said, was the Council on Local Mandates measure, which was recommended by Gov. Chris Christie as part of his reform toolkit.
All reforms needed to help out mayors with the new property tax cap are expected to be passed by the end of the year, McKeon said.
“I’m handling my part of the solution right here,” he said, and next up for his committee is a review of consolidation and mergers.
The third bill, A3269, was held by the committee due to questions raised by a representative of the counties. The bill clarifies that the Attorney General shall represent county constitutional officers in any action brought against the officer on account of an act or omission in the scope of the officer’s employment.
“When you’re talking about the constitutional officers, are you talking about their staff as well?” Assemblywoman Denise Coyle (R-Bernards) asked.
With that and other questions unanswered, McKeon said, “Okay, I’m going to hold the bill.”
A fourth bill, A3270, requires a 50 percent deposit for Open Public Records Act (OPRA) over $25, or over 150 pages.
The bill also codifies a Government Records Council decision that records are not required to be released until payment is received.
“We’ve heard from a number of clerks and mayors,” McKeon said, in support of the bill.
The League of Municipalities and Association of Counties both backed the bill, although Sierra Club Executive Director Jeff Tittel did not.
“Think of all the paper you’re going to save,” McKeon said.
Tittel asked for an amendment allowing for a requestor to review records before filing their OPRA request.
Without a look at the records, many times requestors don’t know exactly what to ask for, Tittel said. For a $3,000 OPRA request, he said, “With this bill I would have to put up $1,500.”
“Sometimes agencies will try and bury you with paper,” he said.
McKeon took his opinion under advisement, and the committee released the bill.
A fifth and final bill, A3272, would require municipalities to review their Master Plan every ten years, rather than every six years as is now required.
The bill would also provide a procedure for built-out municipalities to waive the reexamination process.
Tittel objected. “The concern that we have is that the more towns take a look at their master plan, and that process,” he said, “the better off we are.”
“Many towns’ zoning and their master plans tend to get outdated,” Tittel said, and lack of planning – even considering the cost savings – ends in “bad development and higher cost to the taxpayer.”
Tittel said, “Ten years is a very long time to wait for a review.”
The bill was released by the committee.