Weekly Advance: Week of Jan. 23

TRENTON – The slate has been cleared and it’s time to take the chalk out again.

The governmental gears are spinning once more, as Trenton kicks off a busy week, the last in January.

On the itinerary: same-sex marriage, a train trip to D.C., and a federal sports betting bill.

Gov. Chris Christie has yet to face the press following his tax cut reveal during the State of the State – sans the three-year rollout detail – so expect a briefing at some point in the front-end of the week.

For richer, for poorer

Would a front office veto leave marriage equality backers standing at the altar? Maybe.

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on S1, the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act. State Sen. Ray Lesniak, (D-20), Elizabeth, the bill’s sponsor, claimed last week to have 24 Democrats and four Republicans potentially lining up to overturn a likely veto from Christie.

Lesniak seems to have a rosy outlook on the vote count, which hasn’t even crossed the 20 vote threshold for passage yet.

He said, “Last time we put marriage equality (to a vote), we were hoping for a miracle that never came. We’re trying again and we may need a miracle this time around as well to get enough voters to override Gov. Christie’s anticipated veto. But miracles do happen.”

The senator would need every Democrat in the upper chamber for the 27-vote override, with the exception of state Sen. Ron Rice, (D-28), Newark, who is locked in as a ‘no’ vote. Lining up 24 Dems means convincing several other ‘no’ votes from 2009, like state Sens. Shirley Turner, (D-15), Lawrenceville, and Nick Sacco, (D-32), North Bergen.

It also means state Senate President Steve Sweeney, (D-3), West Deptford – who went from sniping the bill’s chances in 2009 to sponsoring the bill in 2012 – would have to line up two votes on the fence and one strictly opposed in South Jersey: Fred Madden, (D-4), Washington Township; Donald Norcross, (D-5), Camden; and Jeff Van Drew, (D-1), Middle Township, who told State Street Wire last week that he does not intend to vote for the bill.

Not only that, but only two of Lesniak’s four Republican votes are apparent: state Sens. Jen Beck, (R-11), Red Bank, a co-sponsor, and Diane Allen, (R-7), Edgewater Park, who is leaning toward voting in favor. Sources said state Sen. Kip Bateman, (R-16), of Branchburg, can potentially be courted for support; he was not immediately available for comment. Other possible converts are hard to find in the GOP Senate caucus. Lesniak would not specify any targeted lawmakers on the other side of the aisle, and may be overstating his prospects, according to Statehouse sources.

Even with all the ifs, ands, and buts addressed, it only equals 26 ‘yes’ votes, one vote short of a veto override. The “Hail Mary” scenario, according to Lesniak: “It’s not unusual (in a situation like this) for a legislator to get a call from one of their children or a close friend or relative” who reveals his/her homosexuality and asks the lawmaker to support the bill. The French have a saying, Lesniak said: “On ne sait jamais comment les choses vont tourner.” Translated: “One never knows how things will turn out.”

Other committees

Other Senate committees are meeting on Monday. The Economic Growth Committee will take a vote on S467, sponsored by state Sen. Shirley Turner, (D-15), Lawrenceville, which would require certain electric public utilities to file emergency response plans with the Board of Public Utilities.

The panel will also hear S1027, which extends for 18 months the application submission deadline to the Economic Development Authority for review and approval of certain construction projects involving public institutions of higher education. The bill, sponsored by Lesniak and Sweeney, was approved by the upper chamber, 38-0, last June, but never heard in the lower chamber.

Finally, the committee will pass judgment on Lesniak’s tiger protection bill, S945.

The first meeting of the Senate Higher Education Committee will include testimony from various stakeholders, likely extending a chorus call for infrastructure and facility upgrades. The last time the state issued bonds for higher ed upgrades was 1988, but several key lawmakers have made this a priority and the time may be right for another round of financing.

The committee will also hear S847, sponsored by state Sen. Sandra Cunningham, (D-31), Jersey City, which revises the NJ STARS and NJ STARS II Programs.

The State Government, Wagering, Tourism, & Historic Preservation Committee has several bills on the agenda, including S1025. Sponsored by state Sen. Jim Whelan, (D-2), Atlantic City, the bill allows a casino to pay up to 6 percent or 9 percent of a parimutuel pool to an out-of-state racetrack for simulcast races; and it provides that a casino retains 55 percent of certain remaining takeout rate amounts.

All aboard

One of the state’s best misnomers, the N.J. Chamber of Commerce Walk to Washington, will celebrate its 75th annual train trip to the national capital on Thursday and Friday.

Earlier in the week, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, (D-6), will travel in the opposite direction. Pallone will join Lesniak, sponsor of New Jersey’s sports betting law, in the Statehouse on Monday to unveil a House bill exempting the Garden State from the federal ban on sports betting.

And Gov. Christie returns to his town halls, with one scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Shimon and Sara Birnbaum Jewish Community Center, 775 Talamini Road, Bridgewater.

The rest of the schedule:

MONDAY

Congressman Frank Pallone, state Sens. Ray Lesniak and Jim Whelan will discuss legislation to bring sports betting to New Jersey, 1 p.m., Statehouse, Trenton.

Senate Education Committee, 10 a.m., Rm. 6, Statehouse Annex, Trenton

Senate Higher Education Committee, 10 a.m., Rm. 7, Statehouse Annex, Trenton

Senate Law and Public Safety Committee, 10 a.m., Rm. 10, Statehouse Annex, Trenton

Senate Economic Growth Committee, 10:30 a.m., Rm. 1, Statehouse Annex, Trenton

Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee, 1 p.m., Rm. 7, Statehouse Annex, Trenton

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

TUESDAY

Senate Judiciary Committee, 11 a.m., Rm. 4, Statehouse Annex, Trenton

Real Estate Commission, 9:30 a.m., Mary Roebling Building, Conference Room 220, second floor, 20 W. State St., Trenton

Camden Economic Recovery Board, 10 a.m., Waterfront Technology Center, 200 Federal St., Camden

State Capitol Joint Management Commission, 11:30 a.m., Rm. L103, Statehouse, Trenton

WEDNESDAY

Civil Service Commission, 10 a.m., first-floor board room, 3 Station Plaza, 44 S. Clinton Ave., Trenton

Drug Utilization Review Board, 11 a.m., Division of Medical Assistance and Health Services, Quakerbridge Plaza, Building 7, Conference Room 200, Quakerbridge Road, Mercerville

THURSDAY

Seventy-fifth Annual Walk to Washington and Congressional Dinner, N.J. Chamber of Commerce, Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, Washington, D.C.

FRIDAY

Medical Assistance Advisory Council, 10 a.m., Division of Medical Assistance and Health Services, Quakerbridge Plaza, Building 7, Conference Room 200, Quakerbridge Road, Mercerville

Council on Local Mandates, 10 a.m., Hearing on complaint filed by Allamuchy Township Board of Education, Rm. 10, Statehouse Annex, Trenton

Seventy-fifth Annual Walk to Washington and Congressional Dinner, N.J. Chamber of Commerce, Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, Washington, D.C.

Weekly Advance: Week of Jan. 23