Morning News Digest: December 16, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Christie makes nominations
Governor Christie today filed the following nominations and direct appointment with the State Senate and Secretary of State’s Office. The Governor’s nominations are subject to the advice and consent of the State Senate. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Sports betting bill OK’d by Assembly
The Assembly on Thursday passed bill A4385, which will permit casinos in Atlantic City and racetracks to conduct wagering on professional and collegiate sports or athletic events.
The bill passed by a 54-15 vote. Assemblyman Ron Dancer abstained.
Wagering on sports events will not include wagering on any collegiate sport or athletic event that takes place in New Jersey or on a sport or athletic event in which any New Jersey college team participates regardless of where the event takes place. (Hassan, PolitickerNJ)
Teen driver’s license back on track with compromise
Parents and guardians would no longer have to leave their homes to brush up on laws governing teen drivers’ licenses under a compromise lawmakers reached to keep on track a proposal designed to improve teen driver safety.
The parents or guardians can now take the 90-minute course on special teen rules and regulations – such as an 11 p.m. curfew – online; as long as both the teen and the guardian are present, said the bill’s Senate sponsor, Brian Stack (D-33), of Union City. (Hooker, PolitickerNJ)
Christie antagonist seeks end to ‘demeaning’ feud
Former Gov. Dick Codey said Thursday a feud with Gov. Chris Christie over judicial nominees is demeaning to the office of the governor and needs to stop, and he called on Christie to end the escalating attacks.
The comments by Codey, now a Democratic state senator from Essex County, to The Associated Press were his first since the Republican governor fired two Codey allies from their government jobs and canceled his security detail this week. (Delli Santi, Associated Press)
Sen. Codey: Christie insulted the office of the governor
State Sen. Richard Codey said Gov. Chris Christie insulted the office of the governor this week when he apparently took revenge against him.
“It’s time to leave it alone” said Codey (D-Essex) . “It’s demeaning to the office, one of which both of us shared.”
Codey’s comments come in response to a Star-Ledger report on Wednesday outlining how the Christie administration cut off Codey’s security detail and fired one of his close friends along with his cousin. (Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)
In political escalation, N.J. Dems hide identities of those blocking Christie nominations
Senate Democrats have launched their latest strike in the legislative battle over nominations by keeping Republicans from finding out who’s blocking the governor’s nominees from going through the confirmation process.
In an e-mail obtained by The Star-Ledger, Sen. Nicholas Scutari, chairman of the judiciary committee, on Wednesday directed Office of Legislative Services to limit access to an internal nominations database to Senate President Steve Sweeney and top staffers.
“Republican members … should not receive information concerning the use of senatorial courtesy by any other member,” the email reads. “The Governor’s office should receive information on the same basis as the public.” (Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)
Use it or lose it: Cashing in on unused days off
In four New Jersey municipalities — Alpine, Hackensack, Jersey City, and New Brunswick — every property owner is committed to paying more than $1,000 just to compensate workers for all of their unused days off.
According to the Christie administration, the total bill to local taxpayers for accumulated sick and vacation days if it had to be paid today is $825 million, and that’s only for municipal employees. Including county and school workers could bring the total to twice that much. (O’Dea, NJ Spotlight)
N.J. Legislature passes measure to restore $139M in transitional city aid
After more than six months of skirmishing between Gov. Chris Christie and the Legislature — with the economic health of 11 cities hanging in the balance — the Senate and Assembly approved a measure Thursday that restores $139 million in aid to the state budget.
The measure also adds $1.5 million for the oversight of the funds, a condition that Christie insisted on before he would sign the measure and free up the aid.
Now the legislation is headed to the governor’s desk, where it will await his signature. (DeMarco, The Star-Ledger)
Legislators approve NJPAC land transfer, Prudential remains unsure of building offices
A new Prudential office tower in downtown Newark came one step closer to becoming a reality Thursday.
The project got a boost after the Legislature authorized the state Thursday to transfer a 12-acre parcel to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Prudential has targeted the site across from the center as a potential location for a 600,000-square-foot office tower.
But, despite Thursday’s vote and a lucrative tax incentive granted by the state, Prudential officials said they are still uncommitted to the project. (McGlone and Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)
N.J. provides Revel casino $2.6M to train new workers
New Jersey is providing more financial support to the soon-to-open Revel mega-casino, announcing Thursday it is giving the casino a $2.6 million to help train new workers.
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno announced a Labor Department grant for the casino. It’s the largest “customized training” grant the Christie administration has ever handed out.
During a ceremony at the not-quite-finished casino in Atlantic City, Guadagno said the project has already created more than 2,600 construction jobs and “brings a new promise of prosperity to this area.” Revel is due to open in May with 5,000 jobs. (Parry, Associated Press)
N.J. Legislature removes provision from sports betting bill that would have allowed online wagers
A bill to allow sports betting at casinos and horse tracks has been changed to please Gov. Chris Christie, who had objected to allowing wagering on the internet.
The changes, made in the Senate Thursday by a vote of 33-2, removes the last stumbling block for the bill, setting it up for passage next month.
State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), the prime sponsor, said he still wants to allow online betting but thinks it’s more important to persuade Christie to sign the bill soon and then file a lawsuit to overturn a federal ban on sports betting in all but four states. (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
Borough offers plan to rescue racetrack
Senior advisers to Gov. Chris Christie are in talks with Oceanport officials to see if establishing a borough redevelopment authority could keep state-owned Monmouth Park open until a private investor is found.
The idea was pitched by Oceanport Mayor Michael J. Mahon, after Christie said he might halt thoroughbred racing at the site. Christie’s threat was made after a tentative five-year lease to real estate executive Morris Bailey fell through. (Jordan, Gannett)
New Jersey’s bare-minimum budgets
For all the debate in New Jersey about when and how the public votes on school budgets, there are dozens of districts in a given year where the public can’t cut the local tax levies.
Sixty-five districts — urban and suburban — are at the minimum property tax levy allowed by state law for this year. This amount is determined by a complicated formula in the School Funding Reform Act that weighs the minimum a district needs to spend and its ability to pay for it through per capita income and property wealth, among other factors. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
$7M grant to help hospitals reduce errors
Hospitals throughout the state will benefit from a $7 million federal grant to improve quality and safety, the New Jersey Hospital Association announced Thursday.
The two-year program aims to reduce preventable errors such as falls, ventilator-associated pneumonia, bed sores and certain infections.
“This is a tremendous boost for New Jersey’s hospitals and the patients who depend on us for quality and affordable health care” said Betsy Ryan, president of the association. (Layton, The Record)
Senate clears bill expanding online access to public data
The state Senate unanimously approved a measure that would give the public online access to financial records for public authorities, including nearly 600 local agencies, boards and commissions.
Thursday’s vote moves the long-delayed bill to Governor Christie for his signature. Lawmakers proposed the measure after a state comptroller’s report found that 587 of the agencies posted little or no information about their expenses, budgets and other records.
The bill mandates that local authorities maintain websites and include basic financial information. In March, the comptroller detailed how those agencies spend roughly $5 billion with little or no public oversight. Though 65 percent operate some kind of website, the comptroller found, only 8 percent provide information about spending online. (McAlpin, The Record)
Moving school elections would mean buying new machines
The state will need to spend $12 million for new voting machines if a bill that helps to move school elections to November is passed, officials said Thursday.
The bill, which ends a century of practice and also permits the end of school budget votes, passed a state Senate committee despite the warnings from two state clerks.
It is now poised for votes in both chambers of the state Legislature. (Jordan, Gannett)
State establishes new rules to seal pay data for troopers
Attorney General Paula Dow this month formalized rules that prohibit State Police overtime pay from being released to the public.
The new rules mean the public will not be able to access overtime data on individual troopers and other law enforcement personnel under the auspices of the Division of Law and Public Safety.
Other information to be kept secret includes background checks, procedure manuals and annual evaluations. (Method, Gannett)
Bill addressing end-of-life issues moves on to Christie
A bill to encourage individuals to make decisions about their end-of-life medical care, and to set lifestyle goals for their final days, was approved by the legislature Thursday and now goes to Gov. Chris Christie.
If signed into law, it will move New Jersey in the direction of more than 30 other states that now provide residents with a relatively new of end-of-life planning document, the “Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment” or POLST. (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)
On a voting spree, N.J. Senate backs winery sales
Small wineries could directly ship wine to consumers and retailers under legislation that passed the Senate, 23-13, on Thursday, one of dozens of bills that lawmakers sped through in their last voting session of the year.
“New Jersey wineries are by and large considered among the best in the country, but consumer access to these wines is still severely limited. This legislation will change all of that,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), a sponsor, said in a statement. (Rao, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
N.J. plans to buy camp to help bay
The state will spend $1 million to buy a Boy Scout camp near Barnegat Bay to prevent development there and to help protect one of the nation’s most ecologically fragile waterways from the pollution that development would bring.
On the first anniversary of its 10-point plan to improve the health of the struggling bay, the state Department of Environmental Protection announced Thursday that its Green Acres program would buy the development rights to the 436-acre Joseph A. Citta camp from the scouts. (Parry, Associated Press)
Sen. Frank Lautenberg urges FDA to ban flavored cigars
U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg today called on the Food and Drug Administration to prohibit the sale of flavored cigars, according to a press release issued by the senator’s office.
“Cigars with candy-like flavorings such as strawberry, watermelon, vanilla and chocolate attract kids to smoking and help hook them on this addictive habit,” wrote Lautenberg, who co-authored the letter along with senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). (The Star-Ledger)
Game of congressional redistricting drawing to a close
Congressional redistricting is a game of musical chairs that starts once a decade, when the census updates population figures. This year, both Pennsylvania and New Jersey grew more slowly than other states, so each is losing a seat in the House of Representatives.
Pennsylvania, like most states, lets its legislature draw the new map. On Tuesday, the state House released a map that combines two southwestern districts, which could pit two incumbent Democrats against each other next year. It also redrew some competitive districts to protect Republican incumbents. Democrats were particularly peeved at the remapping of a Philadelphia-area district, the Seventh, which would take in parts of five counties. They likened its shape to an oil spill. (Farrell, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Cherry Hill may be site for bets
Cherry Hill could one day be the site of a sports betting parlor under a revised bill debated in the State House on Thursday.
Legislators included the former Garden State Park racetrack site in the original bill because they felt the affluent suburban area was too lucrative to cede to Philadelphia if Pennsylvania ever approves sports betting. It would be the only non-racetrack site in the state for a sports betting parlor.
Cherry Hill was removed from the Senate bill earlier this month but restored on Thursday. (Parry, Associated Press)
PSEG subsidiary inks $40 million deal to manage Long Island Power Authority Network
A piece of Public Service Enterprise Group is moving to Long Island.
PSEG Long Island LLC, a subsidiary of the Newark energy company, yesterday was selected by the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) to manage its electric and transmission system under a $40 million a year contract over a decade.
The awarding of the contract marks a new venture for PSEG, which owns Public Service Electric & Gas, New Jersey’s largest gas and electric utility. PSEG Long Island was one of three finalists considered for LIPA management services contract, which will begin January 1, 2014 after a two-year transition period and run for 10 years. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
McHose holds out on GOP endorsement
While many New Jersey Republicans have lined up behind Gov. Chris Christie’s choice for the Republican presidential nomination — former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — state Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose, R-24, is a holdout.
McHose did not attend Christie’s fundraiser for Romney in Parsippany last Monday, which raked in more than $1 million for his campaign with the crucial New Hampshire primary less than a month away. (Jennings, New Jersey Herald)
Norcross, wife donate $5M to Cooper center
Cooper University Hospital’s Board Chairman George E. Norcross III and his wife, Sandra, kicked off a $50 million capital campaign for the medical center Thursday by pledging $5 million to the effort.
As part of their pledge, the couple presented a check for $1 million to the hospital Thursday morning. It was the first commitment to help fund an ongoing $600 million expansion of the Cooper Health Sciences Campus, said spokeswoman Lori Shaffer. (Cooney, Gannett)
Electronic medical records: Rx for coordinated care
The move by New Jersey doctors to using electronic medical records is gathering speed, as federal subsidies and looming financial penalties are expected to encourage physicians to go digital by 2015.
Thus far, the federal government has given the state’s doctors $38 million in subsidies to help cover the expense of converting patient records from paper charts to electronic medical records. Up to 27 percent of the state’s doctors have made the move, according to Colleen Woods, New Jersey Health Information Technology coordinator. She estimates that by 2015, when Medicare plans to impose financial penalties on doctors who have not digitized their records, that figure could exceed 80 percent. (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)
N.J. Muslims to protest at Lower’s over pulled ad
Members of New Jersey’s large Muslim community plan to protest outside a Lowe’s store in Paterson on Friday.
They’re criticizing the company’s decision to pull ads from a reality TV show about American Muslims.
Aref Assaf, the head of the Paterson-based American Arab Forum, says the protest is meant to show that most Americans respect diversity and get along with one another. He says Lowe’s is caving in to extremist elements that don’t represent the views of most Americans. (Associated Press)
Lawmakers look to give tigers an added measure of p rotection
You may not think of the Garden State as tiger country and on the whole, it’s not, by a long shot.
But there’s enough interest in tiger body parts on the black market to prompt Sen. Ray Lesniak, (D-20), Elizabeth, to pounce on a set of more stringent tracking regulations for tiger owners to follow and tough penalties for those who fail to comply. (Hooker, State Street Wire)
Limited Liability changes approved
The Assembly passed bill A4359, which implements the “Revised Uniform Limited Liability Company Act,” and repeals the “New Jersey Limited Liability Company Act.”
The bill puts in place a more modern regulatory scheme for the creation and operation of limited liability companies in New Jersey. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Both Houses full steam ahead on key environmental legislation
Lawmakers say they’ve found a way to backfill more than $400 million for energy-related projects the Christie administration pulled from the budget to stem the flow of red ink.
The Assembly this afternoon gave final legislative approval to a bill that gives the green light to the state Economic Development Authority to sell bonds that’ll raise money for homeowners to tap into to upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes – from solar panels to new doors, boilers and insulation. (Hooker, State Street Wire)
Majority ‘jobs’ package passes Senate again
A package of economic growth initiatives sponsored by Democratic lawmakers was approved in the Senate today, but one of the bills may be headed for another veto by the governor, sources said.
The package includes S3080, the Back to Work N.J. Program, which passed along party lines today, 24-13. The bill may not find Gov. Chris Christie among its supporters, sources said, due to its $3 million price tag. (Carroll, State Street Wire)
Upper Freehold should not bar medical marijuana company
Tonight, the leaders of Upper Freehold Township are expected to approve a measure that would bar a medical marijuana company from building a greenhouse to cultivate pot in their community.
The key concern, according to Mayor LoriSue Mount, is that marijuana is still illegal under federal law, so the town may be subject to the kind of federal raids that have been taking place in California.
Without doubt, the federal ban on pot creates an awkward legal conundrum, so the concern is understandable. In theory, the U.S. Justice Department could sweep in and make arrests at any time. (Moran, The Star-Ledger)
Marriage by the books of Merman and Mormon
Back when some right-wing Americans were seeing communists hiding under the beds of leftist Americans, there was a popular phrase: Better dead than red. Those days are gone, unless you happen to believe the Muppets’ new film is a Karl Marx-inspired confection with songs, dances and fabric-covered puppets.
Today the threat to American values isn’t under the bed; it is in the bed, the marital bed to be specific. The pledge to preserve traditional marriage is part of the conservative Holy Grail for candidates seeking the presidency. This week, Newt Gingrich, a veritable Parsifal of moral righteousness, signed the Marriage Pledge promoted by the National Organization for Marriage. (Doblin, The Record)