Lawmakers sound off on reform bill, as union rabble rousers removed from chamber

TRENTON – As what is expected to be a long night under the gold dome began, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle was the second Democrat to speak out against the pension and benefits reform bill this evening.

She spoke about real people in her Bergen County district who receive medical care across the state line. “A man from my district wrote to me about his recent heart surgery,” she said. “His doctor’s in New York, only a few miles away. Should he be denied service?”

When she wrapped her speech, again the balcony crowd erupted.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver tried to calm the crowd, saying “I would ask that you maintain decorum in the chamber.”

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon then defended the bill at length.

“Today is a historic day on a policy level,” he said, but maybe more historic with the bipartisan support this reform is getting.

He said the opponents have presented no alternate or “actuarily-sound plan” that would achieve the same goal.

When he finished, the crowd booed loudly, and Oliver again addressed them.

She asked them again to remain respectful or, “I will have no recourse except to ask that you be removed.” The crowd let out an audible hiss following her statement.

Assemblyman John McKeon predicted the legislation would result in higher insurance costs in the long run, especially since a lot more unhealthy patients will be added to the rolls.

“I encourage all my colleagues to vote against this for further amendment,” he said. 

After another speaker spoke against the bill, Oliver gave union supporters in the balcony a final warning. As the next speaker, Assemblyman Vincent Prieto, finished his opposition speach, two more union supporters clapped loudly and were removed from the chamber by state police. Two more union supproters were removed after clapping for the next speaker as well.

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora compared the reform to the Talking Heads’ song “Once In A Lifetime” on the album “Stop Making Sense,” which he said was a song about giving up personal ideals for “conventional success.”

“We stopped making sense to pass it,” he said. “How did we get here?,” making “scapegoats of public workers.”

When he finished speaking he called for the bill to be moved back to second-reading, which had already been done and was voted down. By that measure, Gusciora was out of order to make the motion, which was made clear by Oliver.

“In my opinion, this bill is out of order,” Gusciora said.

Republican Assemblyman Joe Malone said the Democrats should stop harping on an out-of-state clause that both parties agreed to remove from the bill already, and thanked Oliver for moving the bill.

“Your courage to move this thing forward is something I will remember the rest of my life,” Malone said. “You’ve been very generous and letting (the union protestors in the balcony) stay here and disrespect you.”

Assemblyman John Wisniewski said he came to Trenton with “my friend Lou Greenwald,” the Democratic sponsor of the reform bill. “I never imagined I’d speak about a piece of legislation that he sponsored.”

“We’re not reforming health care. We’re doing no such thing,” he said. “We’re changing who pays for health care.” Lawmakers sound off on reform bill, as union rabble rousers removed from chamber