Morning News Digest: February 8, 2012

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Morning News Digest: February 8, 2012

By Missy Rebovich

Try State Street Wire, Follow PolitickerNJ on Twitter and Facebook. Text “PNJ” to 89800 to receive alerts



GOP asks for punishment for judicial questionnaire leak

When nominees are submitted for the approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a little known chamber rule protects their internal communications with the decision-making lawmakers and other government officials.

So when answers to internal questionnaires for Gov. Chris Christie’s two N.J. Supreme Court nominees popped up in a Star-Ledger report today, GOP leaders took umbrage and called for punishment.  (Carroll, PolitickerNJ)



Sources: Inky ground troops wary of Norcross

The editorial staff at the Philadelphia Inquirer has a message for the Democratic Party bosses eyeballing their paper: stay away from our newsroom.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell announced last week that a group including himself, South Jersey Democratic leader George Norcross III and parking czar Lewis Katz want to buy the paper, along with the Philadelphia Daily News, triggering varying degrees of worry, restlessness and outrage at the Inky.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



Former BCIA Director O’Malley sentenced to 24 months

Former Bergen County Improvement Authority Chairman Ronald O’Malley was sentenced today to 24 months in prison for his role in a mortgage fraud scheme. 

In addition to the prison term, the judge sentenced O’Malley to three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay a $25,000 fine.  (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)



Morris County court ruling affirms ELEC’s jurisdiction, agency says

The state Election Law Enforcement Commission said today’s appellate court ruling in a Morris County case confirms its authority to enforce campaign finance laws.

“We are delighted with the decision,’’ said Jeff Brindle, ELEC’s executive director. “We felt all along that a recent Morris County election should not have been overturned based on alleged violations of campaign finance regulations,’’ said Brindle.  (Mooney, PolitickerNJ)



ICYMI: NJBIZ’s Power 100: The 100 Most Powerful People in Business

In our annual list of the most influential people in business, Chris Christie again rules the ranking, but there are plenty of surprises in store, including 50 faces new to the lineup.

Click here to see the list.



Over 150 local officials at Statehouse on Wednesday, Christie opts for Westfield town hall

Over 150 mayors and elected officials will gather in the Statehouse Annex in Trenton Wednesday morning for the New Jersey State League of Municipalities’ 20th Annual Mayors’ Legislative Day.

And for the second year, Gov. Chris Christie will not meet with them. Instead, the governor will hold a meeting with the public in Westfield. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and four of the Christie’s cabinet members will speak to the officials and take questions.  (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)



Sweeney’s bill limits cashing out sick time

Senate President Steve Sweeney on Tuesday introduced a bill to curtail the practice of public employees cashing out sick time when they retire, allowing workers to keep the amount of money they’ve accrued but preventing them from banking any more sick leave going forward.

Legislation to curb sick-time payouts has been stalled since December 2010, when GOP Gov. Christie vetoed a measure to allow for a $15,000 payout cap going forward, saying that cash value of unused sick time should be eliminated. Christie also wanted current employees to draw down on their banked time when taking future vacation or sick days – something he has since backed off.  (DeFalco, Associated Press)



N.J. education commissioner likes tenure reform bill, wants pay changes

New Jersey’s top education official said Tuesday there is much he likes about a Democratic-sponsored teacher tenure reform bill, although he stopped short of endorsing the measure.

Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said he is glad the bill, if enacted into law, would end tenure as lifetime job security, and require that teacher ratings play a significant role in determining who would be let go during layoffs.

But Cerf acknowledged that the bill does not contain provisions for merit pay, long advocated by Gov. Chris Christie’s administration. Instead, Cerf said, he hopes merit pay will be allowed by the Legislature and then eventually become embedded in teacher contracts through the local negotiation process.  (Method, Gannett)



Bill allowing N.J. counties to issue veterans ID cards approved by Senate committee

A bill which would permit New Jersey counties to create identification cards for veterans, in order to allow them to more easily access special discounts and other offers extended to them has been unanimously approved by the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

The bill (S-323), would permit county clerks to create an identification card for veterans who live within the county and do not already hold a veteran ID card issued by the federal government. The cards would not serve as sufficient proof of service for official government business or to secure veterans’ benefits – such as the state-administered veteran property tax deduction, or GI Bill education benefits.  (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)



Port Authority ripped by auditor’s report for wasting billions of dollars

An interim auditor’s report, ordered by the governors of New Jersey and New York after the August toll and fare hikes, said the Port Authority needs a “top-to-bottom overhaul of its management structure” and ripped the agency for lack of cost controls and transparency blamed for billions of dollars in extra spending.

The report by Navigant Consulting Inc. and Rothschild Inc. was delivered to the governors on Jan. 31 and discussed by Port Authority officials during a Tuesday conference call.  (Higgs, Gannett)



November option for school elections opens floodgates for switch

In what started as a trickle after a new law opened up the possibility, more than 230 New Jersey school districts have moved their elections to November and all but taken their budgets off the annual ballot, according to the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA).

With roughly a week to go before what state officials set as a loose deadline, the association predicts the number could top 300 districts, or more than half of all districts that have elections.  (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)



Group says local governments should protect public’s right to record meetings

A statewide open-government advocacy group says the Plainfield school district’s restrictions on video recording school board meetings is an example of what not to do.

The Citizen’s Campaign on Tuesday unveiled model policies it says school boards and municipal governments should adopt to protect the public’s right to video record government meetings.

The policy offered by the organization calls for virtually unfettered access to videotaping proceedings, a proposal that is at odds with the rules in Plainfield, which the group named in its statement Tuesday, and other school districts and municipalities.  (Bichao, Gannett)



Pascrell praises Cruz, ‘Silk City Salsa’

Rep. Bill Pascrell praised surprise standout wide receiver Victor Cruz today with a statement in the Congressional Record honoring the Paterson native’s role in the Giants’ Super Bowl victory.

“Victor serves as a true inspiration to the people of Paterson, who gave him an enthusiastic send-off when he revisited School No. 21 before the team departed for the Super Bowl,” wrote Pascrell, a Paterson native who was once the city’s mayor.  (Jackson, The Record)



Hospitals, doctors will provide info on appeals

By mid-summer, hospitals and doctors’ offices across the state will provide information on how insurance company coverage denials can be appealed.

A bill requiring such disclosure was signed into law last month by Gov. Chris Christie and celebrated Tuesday afternoon at a ceremony at Jersey Shore University Medical Center on Route 33.

Two of the bill’s sponsors – state Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande, R-Monmouth, and state Sen. Diane Allen, R-Burlington – were on hand with hospital officials and Casagrande’s husband for the ceremony.  (Bowman, Gannett)



Property taxes rose at slower rate in 2011

New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes continued to rise in 2011, although at a slower rate than in previous years, according to figures released by the state Department of Community Affairs.

The average annual property tax bill was up $183 from 2010 to 2011, to $7,759. That’s an increase of 2.4 percent, slightly more than half the 4.1 percent increase seen between 2009 and 2010.

New Jersey has had the highest property taxes in the nation for many years.  (Mikle, Gannett)|topnews|text|State



School testing investigation moves to next phase

The first team of state investigators is expected tomorrow at Woodbridge’s Avenal Street School, one of nearly a dozen schools singled out last summer for irregularities and possible cheating on state tests.

What raised the red flag? Avenal is one of nine schools that had among the highest erasure rates on the tests in 2010.

In each case, an extraordinary number of answers were changed from wrong to right — as much as four times higher than the norm — according to Robert Cicchino, a former State Police commander who now directs of the department’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance.  (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)



Appeals court orders Morris County freeholder removed from office

A special GOP convention will be held in the next few weeks to fill a Morris County freeholder seat left vacant by a state appeals court ruling Tuesday that removed Margaret Nordstrom from the board.

The appeals court, in a 35-page ruling, found that Superior Court Assignment Judge Thomas Weisenbeck, sitting in Morristown, lacked the legal authority last year to void Republican William “Hank” Lyon’s narrow victory over Nordstrom in the June 7, 2011, primary election based upon campaign finance reporting flaws and alleged absentee vote misconduct in Parsippany.  (Wright, Gannett)



Medical marijuana center hopes to open in Atlantic County

A group approved to operate a medical marijuana dispensary plans to set up shop in Sout Jersey.

The Star-Ledger reports the Compassionate Care Foundation wants to open a center in Egg Harbor Township.

The center, which still needs a permit from the state health department, becomes the second of six proposed centers to find a home. Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair was the first.  (Associated Press)|topnews|text|State



Medical marijuana provider sues Mount Holly

A nonprofit that wants to market medical marijuana has sued after being denied a site in Burlington County.

Compassionate Care Foundation Inc. wants a judge to overturn a decision last month by Westampton’s Land Development Board. The board’s members voted 4-3 against the nonprofit’s plan to grow and sell marijuana at a vacant warehouse on Hancock Lane.

Compassionate Care Foundation Inc. wants a judge to overturn a decision last month by Westampton’s Land Development Board. The board’s members voted 4-3 against the nonprofit’s plan to grow and sell marijuana at a vacant warehouse on Hancock Lane.  (Walsh, Gannett)



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As hundreds of school districts opt for November elections, pols weigh in

The bill was signed less than a month ago, but already, some 225 school districts have taken advantage of a law that enables them to move the Board of Education elections from April to November. There are 538 districts that have elected school boards.

The legislation, A4394/S3148, passed overwhelmingly in the Assembly by a vote of 61-13, with two abstentions, and in the Senate, the vote was 32-4. Gov. Chris Christie signed the bill on Jan. 17.  (Hassan, State Street Wire)



Remark by NJEA’s Giordano draws backlash from both sides

A few lawmakers and politicos released statements today bashing N.J. Education Association’s executive director Vince Giordano for a remark he made during an interview with N.J. Capitol Report that aired this week.

In an exchange over the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a tax credit-for-scholarships program backed by Gov. Chris Christie, Giordano said the plight of the low-income parents was sad and unfair, but not a reason to change the system.  (Carroll, State Street Wire)



Garden State Equality applauds Calif. ruling on referendum

The chairman of Garden State Equality cheered the ruling today out of California that declared that voter referendums are not the way to go about settling the question of same-sex marriage.  (Mooney, State Street Wire)



From the Back Room 



Norcross not the only one looking to buy Inky

Following word last week that South Jersey’s George Norcross III is teaming up with former Penn. Gov. Ed Rendell to make a run at the for-sale Philadelphia Inquirer, another group of potential buyers emerged.

According to the Philadelphia Daily News, developer Bart Blatstein is heading another investment team examining a buyout of the Philadelphia Media Network (PMN), which includes the Inquirer and the Daily News.

Rendell’s team includes Norcross; businessman Lewis Katz; and Ed Snider, chairman of Comcast-Spectacor and owner of the Philadelphia Flyers; and others. The potentially well-connected ownership is already coming under scrutiny as Democrat-friendly and insider controlled.  (Carroll, PolitickerNJ)






As Howard Cosell would say, “Congratulations, East Rutherford Giants!”

The triumph of the New York Giants over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI has raised anew that monumental public policy issue of whether the team should be called the New Jersey Giants or the New York Giants.  While the team does represent the Metropolitan New York City area, it plays its home games exclusively in the New Jersey Meadowlands.  (Steinberg for PolitickerNJ)



Morning News Digest: February 8, 2012