Assembly recap: votes on emergency responders, hydraulic fracturing, and more

TRENTON – With steroids, “sexting,” and consolidation out of the way Monday, the Assembly took on several other measures.

The bill with the most discussion on the floor Monday was A2095, which increases the oversight on volunteer emergency responders.

According to the bill sponsored by Assemblyman Herb Conaway, (D-8), of Delanco, members of a volunteer first aid, ambulance or rescue squad would now require state licensing and a criminal background check.

Republicans like Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, (R-21), of Westfield, said the measure was opposed by volunteers, like the First Aid Council, because it would increase the regulation and cost of being a volunteer. He said the bill may “force many of those volunteers out of service.”

Conaway said a 2007 study commissioned by the state included all stakeholders at the table, including first responders, and the study’s unanimous recommendations informed the bill.

“Is it too much to ask that volunteers are licensed?” he said, especially considering the issues in places like Woodbridge with first responders who have come into question regarding qualifications. “There are no costs to the license,” he said, and no more staffing is needed.

Assemblyman Gary Chiusano, (R-24), of Augusta, said to Conaway, “The cost that I’m thinking of, sir, is the cost if municipalities do not get volunteers and we would have to pay for these services,” especially in rural areas. “We have to rely on the volunteers.”

Nonetheless, the measure passed, 44-31-3.

– A direct shot at the ongoing contract negotiation hubbub in the Statehouse, AR145 urges a “timely commencement” of collective bargaining with state employee unions, sponsored by union man and Assemblyman Tom Giblin, (D-34), of Montclair.

It passed 49-0-29.

-A joint resolution that passed urged a halt on hydraulic fracturing, or cracking into the Delaware River bed for natural gas.

The measure, AJR67, is sponsored by Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, (D-38), of Paramus.

She said the drilling procedure “may poison our waters,” which is why she’s asking that it be put on hold until a federal study is completed.

“The (Environmental Protection Agency) has doubts,” she said, and has called for a new study to supplement their 2005 examination. Wagner said the previous look was “limited in scope,” and the majority of her colleagues agreed. The measure passed, 59-7-12.

-The chamber unanimously passed A3795, which implements a federal option permitting laid-off workers to continue receiving extended unemployment benefits for much, if not all, of 2011, based on certain unemployment data triggers (replaced by S2680).

-Creating a new license for wineries, A3831 passed 52-20-6. Sponsored by Assemblyman Joe Cryan, (D-20), of Union Twp., the bill replaces plenary winery and farm winery licenses with small winery and wine manufacturing licenses.

-Another Cryan bill, A3648, would require electric vehicle charging stations to be installed on all state toll road rest stops. The measure passed with considerable opposition, 47-28-3. Republicans said the demand isn’t there yet for the stations.

-A bill of rights for residents of assisted living facilities was passed. A3732 (replaced by S2458) is sponsored by Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, (D-20), of Elizabeth, was passed today, 78-0. The bill passed by the Senate, 40-0, in February.

-A bill addressing Barnegat Bay stormwater runoff was met with opposition.

A2606, sponsored by Assemblyman John McKeon, (D-27), of West Orange, authorizes county and municipal planning boards in Ocean County to take certain measures to control stormwater runoff and “nonpoint source pollution” in Barnegat Bay watershed.

Without any discussion, the bill passed, 44-33-1.

-The Assembly unanimously approved ACR126, which determines that a Board of Public Utilities regulation – which requires BPU approval for closure or relocation of cable television company local business offices – is inconsistent with legislative intent. It passed, 77-0.

-Another BPU bill, A2725 requires the agency to issue a decision within 180 days after receipt of a petition by public utilities to sell certain real property. The bill passed, 76-0.

-Two legal bills passed, although one had much more opposition than the other.

A412, which limits actions against court-appointed psychologists and psychiatrists in certain Family Court matters, was approved, 78-0.

The other bill, A3086, which establishes a civil cause of action for gender-motivated violence, passed 60-14-4.

-Finding unanimous support, A2074 authorizes the state parole board and county sheriff’s offices to hire “alternate route-trained” police officers and exempts trainees from certain civil service requirements. It passed, 78-0.

-Finding some disagreement on a unanimously lauded bill, A3355 provides the state parole board with discretion to reconsider parole eligibility for certain crimes after a certain period of time.

Assemblyman Robert Schroeder, (R-39), of Washington Twp., told the story of the Montellero family, whose daughter was a rape and murder victim. The family, he said, was forced by the tragic memories to move to Florida, where they paid out of pocket to return every three years when their daughter’s attacker was up for parole.

A comparable bill proposed by Schroeder offered an open-ended “no early release” exemption that he asked sponsor Assemblyman Gary Schaer,  (D-36), of Passaic, to consider. “I believe a life sentence should mean life in prison,” Schroeder said.

Schaer said his bill accomplishes what Schroeder’s bill would have, but without that particular provision, which wasn’t acceptable to the general Assembly.

Assemblyman Nelson Albano, (D-1), of Vineland, was forced to abstain based on a conflict, but was wholeheartedly in favor of the bill, “saving the families from having to go through that on a three-year basis.” The measure passed, 77-0-1, with only Albano abstaining.

-A3205 (replaced by S1642) requires sterilization of all cats and dogs released for adoption from various facilities, and passed, 57-15-4.

-Looking at infrastructure improvements in the technological realm, A910 directs the state to conduct a study of costs and benefits to replace the “high-volume, basic computing systems” currently used with more cost-effective alternatives. The bill was affirmed, 62-13-2.

-Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell, (D-31), of Bayonne, moved his first bill through the chamber today. A personal one for him, A3744 requires congenital heart defect screening for newborns, and it passed, 78-0. O’Donnell’s son was born with a heart defect that was luckily caught by the doctor. As soon as the cardiologist saw his son, he told O’Donnell: “Your son needs surgery, now.” If approved in the Senate and signed by the governor, the heart test will cost $10 per child and could help diagnose heart issues that are at times not caught until later in life. Assembly recap: votes on emergency responders, hydraulic fracturing, and more