Morning News Digest: February 14, 2012

Morning News Digest: February 14, 2012

By Missy Rebovich

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Turner ‘yes’ vote a last minute surprise

State Sen. Shirley Turner, whose yes vote on same sex marriage came as a surprise even to advocates of the bill, was undecided until the board opened for the vote, Turner said in an interview Monday.

Turner had been counted out by advocates, who said early Monday they expected 23 votes in favor of the bill.

“I was wrestling wth this,” said Turner, who was the 24th “aye” vote. “I felt we could accomplish it with civil unions but from what I have been hearing from gays and lesbians, they have been telling me it was not working. They were not being treated as equals, and I don’t want anyone being treated unequally.” 

Turner said in 2009, she said she felt “bullied” by advocates who picketed her office and her home and by callers to her office who threatened to run her out if she voted no.  (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)



Headed for veto, Senate Dems chest thump in aftermath of marriage equality vote

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37), veteran Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20), Garden State Equality founder Steven Goldstein and other marriage equality advocates basked in their short-lived victory today following the Senate’s successful 24-16 passage of same-sex marriage.

“When Steve Sweeney makes a mistake, he makes up for it big time,” said Lesniak, referring to Sweeney’s 2009 abstention, which the Senate president changed to a resounding affirmative vote earlier this afternoon.

“We can talk about the veto, but the fact that this bill passed the Senate is very meaningful to the state of New Jersey,” said Goldstein, who spoke of a 70 percent increase in Senate support in just two years.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)


AG’s Office arrests a Taxation Division auditor on bribery charge

An auditor with the state Division of Taxation allegedly took a bribe from the owner of a convenience store in Gloucester County in return for not initiating an audit of the store, according to state Attorney General Jeff Chiesa.

Detectives of the Division of Criminal Justice arrested Jerry L. Moore, 33, of Mays Landing, on Feb. 10th after he allegedly accepted a $900 bribe from the owner. 

They charged Moore by summons with second-degree bribery.   (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



Longtime Monmouth Dems Chairman Schiery formally prepares for departure

Monmouth County Democratic Party Chairman Vic Scudiery intends to formally submit his letter of resignation to county committee members tomorrow.

At the end of his term in June, Scudiery will be one of the state’s longest-serving party chairs.

His departure means a June contest. Two combatants seeking Scudiery’s chairmanship include Long Branch businessman Vin Gopal and Marlboro attorney Frank LaRocca.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



At Caldwell town hall meeting, Christie calls on N.J. towns to share services

Gov. Chris Christie today told a hospitable audience at the Caldwell Community Center that after school funding, the duplication of municipal services is most responsible for high property tax bills.

Christie said he understands each town values its unique character, but pointed to Princeton Township and Princeton Borough’s recent decision to consolidate. The state will pick up the transition costs for the first year to encourage more towns to merge. “If you wonder why your property taxes are so high,” he said, “the next culprit after school funding is this proliferation of repetition, everybody having a CFO, everybody having a business administrator.”  (Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)



Changed votes, minds key to NJ Senate passage of landmark gay marriage bill

Eight senators either changed their votes or voted yes for the first time Monday, approving a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in New Jersey, saying changing times meant changing their minds.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney chose to abstain in 2010 when a similar bill came up for a vote and failed after he and other Democrats didn’t support it.

Sweeney, who cited his conservative-leaning district in Gloucester County when talking about that earlier vote, now says he is convinced marriage equality is a civil rights issue. On Monday, he not only voted for a bill that would legalize same-sex marriages, he was its co-sponsor and rallied Democrats to support it as it cleared the Senate.

“Two years ago I did something I really regretted,” Sweeney said after Monday’s vote to send the bill to the Assembly  (Reitmeyer and Fletcher, The Record)


New Jersey voters want referendum on gay marriage—poll

A majority of New Jersey voters say same-sex marriage should be decided by popular referendum – something Republican Governor Chris Christie has suggested, but Democratic leaders have pointedly refused to do – a poll released on Tuesday said.

Fifty-four percent of New Jersey voters said same-sex couples should be allowed to wed. By about the same margin, voters also thought the issue should be placed on a ballot, according to a survey by the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University.

New Jersey’s Democratic leadership, which controls both houses of the legislature, has made gay marriage a top priority this session, saying the state’s civil union law does not adequately protect same-sex couples.  (Honan, Reuters)



Hearing on N.J. acting education boss postponed over residency questions

Christopher Cerf may not want to order those new business cards just yet.

In a surprise move today, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee postponed a scheduled Thursday confirmation hearing for Cerf, who was nominated by Christie in December of 2010 to become the state’s Education Commissioner.

Cerf has retained the acting tag for more than a year as State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex) blocked the nomination using a senatorial practice known as courtesy. The informal rule allows senators to block gubernatorial appointments of people who live in their districts. 

Cerf, who has owned a home in Montclair since 1999, lives in Rice’s district. He seemed to bypass the legislative tactic last month when it surfaced that he rented a home in Somerset County and thus courtesy shifted to State Sen,. Christoper Bateman (R-Somerset).  (Renshaw and Rundquist, The Star-Ledger)



Will Christie cut school aid?

When Gov. Chris Christie releases his state budget next week, his proposed income tax cut will grab a lot of attention. But the biggest — and possibly the toughest — questions may have to do with state aid to schools, which accounts for one-third of the overall budget.

The Christie administration has so far been mum or at best vague as to what it will propose for public schools next year.

Meanwhile, acting education commissioner Chris Cerf has been working on a court-ordered report to the legislature that revisits the formulas used in the School Funding Reform Act to determine if they provide enough — or too much — aid to districts.  (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)



January might be ‘Human Trafficking Prevention Month’ in N.J.

Three legislators Monday introduced a joint resolution that would designate January of each year as “Human Trafficking Prevention Month.”

Under the legislation, sponsored by Senators Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex) and Sandra Bolden Cunningham (D-Hudson) and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), the designation would promote ongoing education about the signs and consequences of human trafficking, to work to end human trafficking, and to encourage support for the victims of human trafficking throughout New Jersey and across the world.  (New Jersey Newsroom)



Assemblyman proposes overhaul of alimony laws

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, bills have started moving through the New Jersey Assembly that could possibly lead to an overhaul of the state’s alimony laws.

The measures from Assemblyman Sean Kean, R-Monmouth, include a call to create an 11-member commission to review alimony laws and propose reforms. A separate Kean bill, cleared last week by the lower house’s Judiciary Committee, provides that child support or alimony payments may be modified if the obligor’s income is diminished due to unemployment, temporary disability or similar circumstances.

Kean has huddled with Tom Leustek, president and co-founder of New Jersey Alimony Reform, who has campaigned to end court-ordered awards of lifetime alimony. Instead, Leustek and his group want to have terms of payments to former spouses set by legislation.  (Jordan, Gannett)



Pallone pushes bill to speed OK of generic drugs

Rep. Frank J. Pallone Jr., senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, visited Ohm Laboratories Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Ranbaxy Pharmaceuticals Inc., on Monday to highlight the Generic Drug and Biosimilar User Fee Act of 2012.

The bipartisan bill introduced by Pallone would establish two programs at the Food and Drug Administration to help speed the delivery of low-cost drugs and other medicines to patients.

Pallone joined New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill and representatives of New Jersey Citizen Action, Ranbaxy Pharmaceuticals and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield New Jersey to promote the bill and the benefits it would provide in both patient care and health care savings.  (Staff, Gannett)



Good, bad news for N.J.

President Barack Obama unveiled Monday his $3.8 trillion budget proposal, which would close a marine lab on the Jersey Shore as well as set aside money for a new aviation hangar at a military base and flood control projects.

On his list of programs to cut, Obama singled out the James J. Howard Marine Sciences Laboratory at Sandy Hook. The 50-year-old facility is a key fisheries lab in the region, studying the effects of climate change and human activities on marine populations along the Jersey Shore.

The Obama budget proposal also includes $47 million for a new state-of-the-art aviation hangar to house the Communications and Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center Flight Activity on the former Lakehurst Naval Air Engineering Station side of the joint McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst base.  (Herman, Gannett)



North Jersey could see more transportation funding under proposed Obama budget

North Jersey roads and transit systems would get more money in President Obama’s proposed 2013 budget, but one analyst said he was using a phony funding source, and the House and Senate can’t agree on much smaller programs.

The budget also includes a $1 million down payment, on top of $250,000 announced last week, for the Army Corps of Engineers to study long-term solutions to chronic Passaic River flooding.

While $1 million is almost insignificant in a $3.8 trillion budget, its inclusion signals Washington’s commitment to a $15 million multi-year study after Obama visited Paterson and Wayne last year to see the massive damage caused by back-to-back storms.

“I am very grateful that President Obama did not forget what he saw,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson.  (Jackson, The Record)



Bill to add fluoride to water comes at hefty taxpayer price tag, says opponent

A bill under consideration in the Legislature to mandate the addition of fluoride to the public water supply would cost taxpayers billions, according to one opponent, but a major service provider said it’s not taking a position on the issue.

“Not only does this unfunded mandate completely strip away all local control of fluoridation, but requires local taxpayers to fund the estimated $5 billion startup cost and the annual $1 billion cost to maintain the practice,” said Paul Connett, executive director of the nonprofit Fluoride Action Network, of New York, in a press release.

A New Jersey American Water spokesman said the company, which provides water to roughly one-third of the state’s residential population through seven treatment plants and 170 public well stations, is neutral on the issue, though implementing the proposed legislation will cost more than $75 million, or a 5 percent increase in the residential water rate.  (Eder, NJBIZ)


New Jersey joint base supporters meet to plan strategy

Civilian supporters of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst on Monday held their first strategy meeting since the Department of Defense put another round of military base closings on the table, and they will be looking for ways to consolidate yet more missions at the 40,000-acre combined services reservation.

“It is absolutely about getting all our data to fend off the base closings,” said Rep. Jon Runyan, R-N.J., who hosted the session with about 20 people at his Berkeley district office.

But it won’t be just a defensive play; the joint base survived and finally thrived in the post-Cold War downsizing by absorbing military missions and units from bases that closed.  (Moore, Gannett)



NJ hospital responds to growing psychiatric needs to geriatric patients

A New Jersey hospital has responded to growing psychiatric needs of geriatric patients by adding 22 beds at Clara Maass Medical Center, a new unit that was nearly filled before its official opening.

Area psychiatrists and long-term care facility directors began sending patients “just because they heard about us on the vine,” said Joe Hicks, executive director of the Behavioral Health Network of Barnabas Health, parent of Clara Maass in Belleville. “The need is really significant.”

Hicks and other health experts predict the need to continue increasing as the population ages. They are also closely watching the potential impact of the June 30 closure of the state’s Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital in Glen Gardner, Hunterdon County, which specializes in gero-psychiatry.  (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)



Garden State company converts biomass into ‘green gasoline’

It may only amount to a drop in the bucket for a nation as thirsty for oil as the United States, but a Hillsborough company is betting it can convert wood pellets and other biomass into a renewable gasoline.

Primus Green Energy, an 11-year-old company, already has produced fuel samples from a pilot plant located in a three-building complex off of Route 206, just north of Princeton. It now is building a demonstration plant at the facility and hopes to break ground next year on a commercial plant.

It’s no small gamble. The privately held company has raised nearly $40 million from its funder, IC Green Energy, a subsidiary of publicly traded Israel Corp. It hopes to raise another $50 million to $100 million this year to help pay for the new commercial plant, a facility that would convert 44,000 tons of wood pellets into 4.8 million gallons of “green gasoline.”  (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)



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Override to depend on Republicans; Rice not capitulating pressure on S1

State Sen. Ron Rice, (D-28), Newark, said he is not entertaining changing his marriage equality vote should the measure come up for a veto override.

State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, (D-1), Middle Township, the other Democrat who voted against the bill today, told the Asbury Park Press that he is also not open to changing his vote.

Rice said, “In the end, the governor is not going to sign the bill. I’m not voting for an override.”  (Carroll, State Street Wire)



Rice reiterates Cerf opposition

Sen. Ron Rice, (D-28), Newark reiterated his opposition to Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf having the ‘acting’ removed from his job title.

“I made it very clear that I will go to hell before I sign off on Cerf,” Rice said this afternoon. “There’s too many issues.”

It appeared as if Cerf had eluded Rice’s senatorial courtesy roadblock by moving to another county, and his Judiciary Committee nomination hearing was scheduled for Thursday. It now appears sidelined once again.  (Carroll, State Street Wire)



Auto emissions, defribillators, sewer connections bills approved

The following bills were passed by the Senate, albeit with a handful of no votes.

S437: Passed 37-2. This prohibits the buyer of a used vehicle from waiving the obligation of the dealer to make emissions-related repairs. Only Sens. Joe Kyrillos and Mike Doherty voted no.

S658: Passed 37-3. This prohibits sewerage authorities from charging a new connections fee when the property is owned by a municipality or under the charge and control of a local board of education or the board of trustees of a charter school….  (Hassan, State Street Wire)



Senate OKs school survey bill

The Senate approved 25-15 bill S454, which amends the law that required school districts to get written permission from a parent before a student could be administered certain surveys.

Under this revision, the written consent would be required only if the survey itself was required to be completed. Voluntary surveys would be preceded by a written notification being sent to the parent.  (Hassan, State Street Wire)



From the Back Room 



Sweeney stymies Cerf hearing

State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), West Deptford, shut down the Thursday hearing for Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf based largely on discomfort about Cerf’s declared residency status, a source said. 

A resident of Montclair in Essex County, Cerf sought refuge in Somerset County, away from the entanglement of Essex County Sen. Ronald L. Rice’s (D-28), Newark, invocation of senatorial courtesy to block him.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



Budget address slated for Feb. 21

The Governor’s Budget Address has been scheduled for Feb. 21, with more details such as the starting time still to be announced.

The Legislature web site carries the brief notice that next Tuesday will be the day the public gets an early glimpse of the administration’s budget for the next fiscal year.  (Staff, PolitickerNJ)






Trenton’s referendum mania

It’s referendum mania in Trenton!  The governor and Republican legislators want to put same sex marriage to a public vote.  Democratic legislators want to put charter school approval to a public vote.

What do they have in common?  In each case, the sponsors are opposed to the policy in question.  Many believe that thay are using the referendum option as a “democratic” smokescreen for a policy they don’t want enacted.

Not only is this bald-faced politics, but it’s a slippery slope.  The public lacks both access to information and the ability to deliberate on these types of issues – issues which our founders specifically said should be left to an informed, deliberative system of representative government.  (Murray for PolitickerNJ)



Democrats ‘evolve’ to pass gay marriage

The champions of same-sex marriage had reason to revel in a “milestone” moment on Monday, despite Governor Christie’s veto pen dangling like the Sword of Damocles over the legislative crusade.

Two years ago, the effort ended in a humiliating defeat in a Democratic-controlled Senate, mustering only 14 “yes” votes, seven shy of passage. This time, it passed with 24 votes, or just three shy of the votes needed for a veto override.

Two years ago, Democrats from blue-collar, socially conservative districts slinked away, either voting no or choosing not to vote. This time, they became part of a new breed of Jersey Democrat – the “evolved” ones. Sen. Paul Sarlo of Wood-Ridge, Nick Sacco of North Bergen, and Fred Madden, the former state police superintendent from Camden County, came out as progressives, at least for the day, by voting yes.  (Stile, The Record)



Newark Councilman Ron Rice running for Congress…almost

Ron Rice‘s congressional campaign slogan is “It’s Time.”

Well, almost, anyway.

In November, the Newark councilman announced he was forming an exploratory committee to run for Congress in the 10th District, a seat held by Rep. Donald Payne Sr., who announced Friday he was being treated for colon cancer.

After months of meetings, coffee klatches and deliberations, Rice put out a YouTube video last week saying he was, yes, still exploring.

“Our Congress is broken,” Rice says in the video.

He’s just not sure if he’s the one to fix it. Despite seeking support and donations, he’s still “testing the waters,” to borrow Federal Election Commission jargon.  (The Auditor, The Star-Ledger)



From bad to worse – the Legislature takes a stab at tenure reform

Okay, let’s try this one more time.

Everyone seems to agree that the present scheme for evaluating teachers and principals is as good as useless. No system that judges 98 percent of workers to be “good” or “great” can be trusted.

At the same time, there’s no agreement that a fair, consistent, reliable, and effective system exists to replace the current one. Nor are we close to having one.

Yet reformers continue to beat a drum — hoping to make up in noise what they lack in accuracy — pounding out that we are good-to-go with a comprehensive and workable teacher evaluation alternative.

We are not.  (Macinnes for NJ Spotlight)



The likelihood of a brokered GOP convention is increasing

I have been discussing the possibility of a brokered 2012 Republican National Convention in my columns and television and radio appearances over the last three months.  A “brokered convention” is defined as a situation in which no candidate arrives at the convention having won enough delegates in primaries and caucuses for a first ballot majority.

I am not yet ready to predict a brokered convention, but as frontrunner Mitt Romney continues to struggle to garner a majority of delegates in the early primaries and caucuses, the likelihood of a brokered convention increases.  Let me go one step further:  If Mitt Romney loses the GOP primary in his native state of Michigan on February 28 to Rick Santorum, his candidacy is finished, and a brokered convention is a certainty.  (Steinberg for PolitickerNJ)



Morning News Digest: February 14, 2012