Weekly Roundup: Week of Aug. 22

TRENTON – Trenton was rocked this week.

Literally.

Usually scandals shake up the Statehouse, but on Tuesday, a 5.8-magnitude earthquake was felt here as well as in several other Eastern states. No damage was reported, if you don’t count rattled nerves.

Still, state business continued for the rest of the week. But with Hurricane Irene on the horizon and  expected to drench several Southern counties, emergency plans for evacuation have been drawn up, and the situation was being monitored by the state officials, as of Friday afternoon.

One-year moratorium

Gov. Chris Christie had a response to environmental groups and legislators seeking a ban on the controversial hydraulic fracturing method that’s used to unearth natural gas – Let’s wait one year.

After both houses of the Legislature passed a resolution in June calling for an end to the procedure dubbed “fracking” Christie issued a conditional veto on the resolution Thursday afternoon.

Christie wants a one-year moratorium on fracking on Jersey land, as opposed to the outright ban.

Sen. Bob Gordon, (D-38), of Fair Lawn, who was among many supporters of the resolution, said the proposed one-year moratorium is basically meaningless, and he will seek to overturn it at a separate Senate session sometime in September.

Charter conversion

The committee rooms were abuzz again this week after a long summer recess.

On Thursday, the state Budget Committee released a bill that would enable non-public schools to convert to charter schools. After a year of conversion, the schools would be eligible for public funds.

However, after committee action, the bill was held back from full Senate action later that day and will be headed for more work, possibly before the Senate Education Committee.

Helping hand for developers

Acting Gov. Kim Guadagno had a first this week – a bill signing.

On Wednesday, the lieutenant governor signed S2974, which extends a moratorium on 2.5 percent commercial developers’ fees and which returns fees paid, if the municipalities have not used the funds for affordable housing.

Since the courts have struck down the most recent round of state affordable housing requirements, and since Gov. Chris Christie has abolished the Council on Affordable Housing and folded its responsibilities into the Department of Community Affairs, those developers’ fees were sitting stagnant, for the most part, said bill sponsor Assemblyman Albert Coutinho, (D-29), of Newark.

“The Legislature decided that the economy was getting so bad that we had to do something,” Guadagno said outside a back-road commercial building in Passaic County.

She said at least 30 projects in the pipeline across the state will now move forward due to this legislation, including the 220,000-square-foot expansion of the building in Clifton, run by telecommunications specialists, Telex.

Overall, the acting governor said, the 30 projects that benefit from this bill represent 10 million square feet of property, $1 billion in construction, 6,000 construction jobs, and 12,000 permanent jobs.

Let the sunshine in

The state Supreme Court ruled that the Open Public Records Act does indeed apply to the state League of Municipalities, which unsuccessfully argued it doesn’t fall within its purview.

The lawsuit was brought by the Fair Share Housing Center in South Jersey, which had been seeking

documents related to the League’s opposition to affordable housing rules.

The League argued that no town is required to join, but the court ruled that in effect it functions as an arm of the municipalities and is controlled by officials of those towns, and as such, OPRA applies.

School lunch scandal

The state Attorney General is looking into allegations that the Elizabeth school district knowingly allowed children of employees to enroll for free or reduced lunches, even though the parents earn too much money to qualify.

The action followed an expose in the Star-Ledger that reported on the practice.

Numerous lawmakers, including Sen. Michael Doherty, (R-23), Washington Township, called for an official probe into the reports.

Weekly Roundup: Week of Aug. 22