Weekly Advance: Week of Dec. 19

TRENTON – The stockings are hung by the chimney with care in hopes that telecom deregulation soon will be there. And it will, said several sources in Trenton this week.

By the Jan. 9 voting sessions, the Verizon-backed telecommunications deregulation bill, S2664, sponsored by state Sen. Ray Lesniak, (D-20), of Elizabeth, will have completed its contentious journey through Trenton.

The bill, the Market Competition and Consumer Choice Act, was headed off a few times this year due to concerns over consumer protections – especially for seniors, many of whom still use landline phones. The opposition was headed by the AARP, Division of Rate Counsel, and a few Democratic legislators, a coalition privately supported and encouraged by Verizon-employed CWA workers.

The bill passed in the lower chamber in February, 66-7-4, without much public outcry. Now that the bill is close to the finish line – and considering the amount of money spent to forward it in the Legislature – stakeholders are unwilling to start this race from the beginning in next year’s session, sources said.

State Sen. Bob Smith, (D-17), of Piscataway, has proposed an alternative bill that is languishing in committee, but he said last week that an amendment was prepared for Lesniak’s bill when it last threatened passage – an amendment that would likely resurface before the final legislation reaches Gov. Chris Christie’s desk.

Christie said he had “grave concerns” related to the regulation of landlines when it died in April, but recently he said he’s been “relatively uninvolved” with the bill process.

Lesniak attempted to amend his bill in June, which was decried by opponents because the amendments did not restore any of the consumer protections that the bill removes. Lesniak retreated when he wasn’t able to garner the votes. But the bill, one of the most significant pieces of legislation of 2011, is expected to find safe harbor when it returns in January.

Also, as we approach the end of session, there’s a biannual tradition that may make an appearance: the pocket-veto. The possibility of the rare procedural move in New Jersey government and politics is fast approaching with the end of the current legislative session.

It turns out that under the state constitution it’s the only time New Jersey’s governor can exercise the power of the pocket veto, where inaction leads to the death of legislation.

On the federal level, the president has to sign legislation for it to become law. If he doesn’t sign or veto a given measure and takes no action on it, the legislation dies by pocket veto.

But that’s federal. There’s no such thing here in New Jersey except for that one instance, according to the Legislature’s web page, communications directors in both houses and the governor’s office.

The pocket veto here in the Garden State “applies only to bills passed in the last ten days of a two-year legislative session.”

Both Democrat-controlled houses have scheduled committee hearings for Jan. 5 and the final voting day of the session for Jan. 9, the day before the 214th legislative session ends and gives way to the 215th Legislature at noon Jan. 10.

If the Republican governor wants to conditionally veto legislation, lawmakers have to have it in their hands by noon on the 10th to give them a chance to act before they essentially go out of business.

But in another twist, Gov. Christie will have until Jan. 17 to sign or formally veto legislation, the latter of which would kill the measure altogether because there’d be no chance for the old Legislature to override.

If he doesn’t sign legislation passed on that final day of the 214th session, that’s when New Jersey’s pocket veto becomes available to this first-term governor for the first time.

Not as rare or exciting an occurrence as say, the passing of Haley’s Comet every 75 years or so, but rare enough for the New Jersey political orbit.

And like astronomers checking the night sky, political observers here will surely report back whether this governor used the power of the pocket veto this time around or not.

Weekly schedule:

Monday

Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, 10:30 a.m., DRJTBC Building, 2492 River Road, New Hope, Pa.

Site Remediation Professional Licensing Board, 4 p.m., Department of Environmental Protection, 401 E. State St., first-floor public hearing room, Trenton

Atlantic Coast Shellfisheries Council, 7 p.m., Nacote Creek Law Enforcement Office, 360 New York Road, Port Republic

Tuesday

Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, 9 a.m., 39 Broadway, New York

Real Estate Commission, 9:30 a.m., Roebling Building, 20 W.  State St., Trenton

School Ethics Commission, 9:30 a.m., OIT Building, 200 Riverview Plaza, Conference Rm. 200, first floor, Trenton

Maritime Pilot and Docking Commission, 10 a.m., One Penn Plaza East, ninth floor, Newark

Election Law Enforcement Commission, 11 a.m., 28 W. State St., 12th floor, Trenton

Government Records Council, 1 p.m., Department of Community Affairs Conference Rm. 129, 101 S. Broad St., Trenton

Wednesday

Delaware River Port Authority, 9 a.m., One Port Center, Camden

Delaware & Raritan Canal Commission, 10 a.m., Prallsville Mills, 33 Risler St., Stockton

Civil Service Commission, 10 a.m., CSC Board Room, first floor, 3 Station Plaza, 44 S. Clinton Ave., Trenton

Thursday

Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization and Consolidation Commission, 9:30 a.m., Department of Community Affairs Conference Rm. 129, 101 S. Broad St., Trenton

Friday

Nothing scheduled

(Additional reporting by Jim Hooker and Bill Mooney)

 

Weekly Advance: Week of Dec. 19