TRENTON – The Statehouse saw a lot of policymaking activity as lawmakers met in various committees over a plethora of diverse bills: protection from stalkers, wind turbines on farmland, teen drivers licenses, sports betting, and more.
In the Assembly Transportation Committee, lawmakers released a bill in which teens would need to fulfill more requirements before receiving their graduated driver’s license, or GDL.
The regulations call for more night driving, providing educational materials, and 50 hours of practice behind the wheel, with the addition of a driver education course.
The bill was sponsored by Assemblyman John Wisniewski, (D-19), of Sayreville.
In New Jersey’s never-ending hunt to find more sources of revenue, a major bill was released by the Senate Wagering and Tourism Committee that would allow sports betting at casinos and racetracks. The practice is presently illegal, but it gained traction with a voter referendum last month.
The bill, sponsored by Sens. Ray Lesniak and Jeff Van Drew, will enable the state to collect more revenues to support capital investment projects and senior citizens programs, which casino revenues are traditionally used for.
Gov. Chris Christie also wants measures in place to help keep Atlantic City from losing any more ground to competing gambling interests.
Lawmakers want stalkers to beware.
The harassers would open themselves up to civil lawsuits for stalking under a bill (A4086) that won unanimous approval from the Assembly Judiciary Committee Monday.
New Jersey would join 10 other states in giving victims easier recourse against their stalkers through the courts. No longer would a victim’s only option be through criminal prosecution, which is something some lawmakers say is tough to come by in many cases.
Under this legislation, victims could bring civil suits for damages against their tormentors.
“This would give the person who’s being stalked a little more leverage,” said Judiciary Chairman Peter Barnes.
There’s a lower standard of proof needed to find a defendant liable in a civil action, Barnes said. And under his bill, stalking victims who win in court would also be entitled to attorney’s fees and compensatory or punitive damages.
The committee also released a bill (A2558) amending the state’s Crime Victims Bill of Rights.
Among the changes: Survivors of homicide victims would be allowed to wear a button during trial containing a picture of the victim. It could be no bigger than four inches in diameter. A concern was raised on the committee that such a practice could result in the defense claiming that a jury had been tainted by the sight and a mistrial declared.
Nonetheless, the bill was released unanimously.
Another bill that was before the committee but for discussion purposes only would require the state to automatically expunge the criminal records of young offenders who are eligible.
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, (D-15), Trenton, is sponsoring that bill (A1060), saying in economic hard times like these, employers are using such findings against job applicants. He says the more well-to-do can afford the going rate of some $1,500 in attorney’s fees to clear their record while the process is far too burdensome for the average person to clear their record on their own.
The Administrative Office of the Courts objected to the bill because it would also eliminate a $30 filing fee the AOC says is needed by the authorities to help pay for processing so much paperwork.
An Assembly committee passed a revised version of the Grow New Jersey Assistance Program, a tax credit initiative for certain businesses formed under the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit Program.
The bill would adjust some requirements for other business assistance programs and authorize the transfer of certain state property in Newark.
The Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee released bill A4267 – sponsored by Assembly members Connie Wagner and Vincent Prieto – which would allow counties and municipalities to use open space trust funds to purchase flood-prone properties.
The bill would include damaged or damage-prone lands from storms or flooding, as well as allow structures to be demolished and debris to be removed, among other protective measures.
Another environmental issue was embodied in A4358, a forestry harvesting bill that would allow some degree of tree-removal on public lands.
The legislation, sponsored by Assemblyman John McKeon, drew a great deal of environmentalists’ protests, who argued that among other things the bill will be a giveaway to private logging concerns and disrupt fragile habitat for at-risk species.
Although the bill cleared committee, McKeon pledged to meet with the environmentalists over their proposed amendments before the bill reaches the point of a full vote by the Assembly.
Another environmental issue advanced on the Senate level, where S2887, which will allow wind turbines on certain types of farmland, was released.
In this case, opponents fear that it will hurt future open space acquisition efforts by angering voters who will see wind turbines benefiting private interests set up on farmland that’s been preserved with public money.
Sen. Bob Smith, the sponsor, said the bill has been amended a lot in order to appease concerns about shadow flickers and noise, among other things.
An education choice group took to the streets to get its message across. Outside the Statehouse, many students rallied Thursday in support of the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a bill that would give students the chance to attend to schools other than the public school in the town they live in.
The legislation has yet to be released. Most Democrats oppose it, saying it would undermine public education, but Gov. Chris Christie backs the alternative approach.
In a court decision that irked many environmental groups, the Appellate Division refused to overturn the Fish and Game Council’s black bear policy, which basically would enable the state to go forward with a scheduled bear hunt.
The court was convinced the council and DEP did an adequate job in finding ways to control the bear population, and the six-day hunt will start Monday.
The week ended on a somber note personnel-wise as the head of the N.J. National Guard, Adjutant General Glenn Rieth, handed in his resignation to the governor over reports that he and a female aide were seen touching each other.