Weekly Roundup: Week of July 11

TRENTON – One by one, the Democratic-controlled Senate tried to override Gov. Chris Christie’s budget vetoes last week.

And one by one, they all failed.

For parts of two days this week, senators on both sides of the aisle made impassioned speeches, but the result each time was the same.  No two-thirds override vote could be achieved.

But lawmakers did generate emotional sound bites for summer headlines and fall campaigns.

For instance, a vote to not allocate additional funds for cops, firefighters and afterschool programs essentially amounted to a vote to “put to death” many city residents.

At least, that was Senate President Steve Sweeney’s reading of the situation after the Democrats failed to win over any Republicans in their attempts to override gubernatorial budget vetoes.

The Republicans, as promised last week by Sen. Kevin O’Toole, (R-40), of Cedar Grove, were not going to provide any support to the party across the aisle.

Sweeney, nearly two weeks after calling Gov. Chris Christie “a rotten bastard,” lashed out at the Republicans’ lack of sympathy for the plight of city residents.

 “These people are getting shot,” Sweeney said. “Cities are burning.”

The Republicans, including Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, (R-13), Middletown and Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., (R-21), Westfield, dismissed the rhetoric by saying money for such “Christmas tree”-like items simply is not available. They maintained that the budget the Democrats passed was unconstitutional.

In addition to funds for those programs, the Republicans refused to override vetoes on funding allocations for the Wynona Lipman center, which treats children who suffered sexual abuse; college tuition grants; the Urban Enterprise Zones; and other items.

Sen. Jim Whelan, (D-2), Atlantic, pointed out that over the course of all the veto override attempts, only one Republican legislator – Sen. Jennifer Beck, (R-12), of Red Bank – changed sides, and that was for one bill, supporting a measure to restore funds for family planning.

That unique occurrence was prudently noticed by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo, (D-36), Wood-Ridge, who issued a statement.

 “I realize the pressure she was put under to simply vote ‘no’ without a thought on how it would impact women in New Jersey,” Sarlo said. “She must be commended for standing up to the governor and those in her party and instead, doing the right thing for New Jersey’s women.”

Ultimately, though, the family planning funds issue is a resilient one, as Sens. Loretta Weinberg, (D-37), Teaneck; Beck, and Sen. Diane Allen, (R-7), of Burlington, have at different times expressed support for this issue.

Weinberg’s attempt to restore more than $7 million for women’s health services was one of the unsuccessful veto override attempts.

Allen and Beck had introduced, and then Allen withdrew, a bill that would have put back $6.3 million for women’s health services.  Allen said she intends to reintroduce her bill at some point.

And Allen’s actions during the veto overrides drew attention.  Rather than vote with GOP colleagues against the overrides, she sat there time after time and simply did not vote. 

But her inaction was not recorded as abstaining; because of the rules in place, her decision was officially recorded as a no vote.

Caylee’s laws

The sobering themes only continued this week as no less than three bills were introduced to establish more severe penalties for failing to report a death or a missing child to police. Currently, it’s only a disorderly person’s offense.

The first bills were introduced by Sens. Nicholas Sacco, (D-32), Hudson, and Thomas Kean Jr., (R-21), Westfield. 

The last bill introduced, by Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, (D-28), of Belleville, would require a missing child to be reported within 12 hours.

All three bills would elevate the crime’s severity, but they differ on the penalties they would set.

The bills come in the aftermath of a controversial verdict in the case of Casey Anthony, a Florida woman who didn’t report the disappearance of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, until a month had passed. The mother was indicted on murder charges but found not guilty.

Sponsors point out that these tougher laws might not necessarily save a child’s life, but they might increase the likelihood of investigators being able to gather crucial evidence at a crime scene.

Education reform

It’s well known Gov. Chris Christie wants to reform state education, and this week, some proposals were passed or acted upon that went beyond his usual familiar calls for merit pay and tenure reform.

The state Board of Education passed a policy that would relax otherwise-stringent requirements for superintendents who want to serve in at-risk school districts. It wasn’t clear if a shortage of highly qualified candidates for such positions was the reason for relaxing the requirements. The Department of Education, in an email response, explained it this way.
“The impetus behind this was that persistently struggling districts ought to have the largest universe of potential superintendent candidates to choose from, though of course they should be free to choose a more traditional candidate if that is what they want,” said DOE official Justin Barra.

“So to be clear, there is no requirement to choose an alternative-certification candidate. But if there are great and experienced people to help turn around a struggling district, but who don’t have the exact certification requirements, we want districts to be able to consider them.”

In addition to that policy change, the Education Department also plans to set up divisions that will concentrate on making students as prepared as possible for college and careers.

9/11 museum exhibit

To remember the victims from New Jersey who were killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the New Jersey State Museum will present an exhibit starting on Sept. 7 that will help launch a year-long program of observances at the museum.

Acting Gov. Kim Guadagno, along with museum executive director Anthony Gardner, whose brother died in the attack, said it’s important for the state to have a collection of artifacts that showcase the residents’ experiences that day.

  Weekly Roundup: Week of July 11