Weekly Advance: Week of Feb. 27

TRENTON – The anticipation of spring fills the air as major-league baseball camps have opened in Florida and Arizona, bringing with it that feeling of renewal, the sense that one has been given a new chance. In March, every team is in first place.

That sense of rebirth permeates the upcoming week’s legislative dockets, in which can be found several familiar items going through their own rite of spring.

The Medicaid waiver. The port authority. The greenhouse-gas battles. Health insurance, Urban Enterprise Zones, and the tiger trade.

These are just a few of the issues that lawmakers will deal with next week. Many of them are issues dealt with – or set aside – in the previous legislative session.

Invitations again extended

At the beginning of the month, the commissioners of Human Services, Jennifer Velez, and of Health and Senior Services, Mary O’Dowd, had been asked to attend an Assembly Budget hearing to discuss the Medicaid waiver application but they declined to appear.

They said that while they looked forward to appearing before the committee during the budget season later this year, they had to decline because negotiations over the waiver were ongoing and fluid and it would be premature to discuss things publicly.

The committee will try again next week.  It again has invited Velez and O’Dowd to appear before it on Wednesday.

After they declined the first time, Committee Chair Vincent Prieto, (D-32), Secaucus, pointed out that the Christie administration’s request that would have led to $100 million in savings had been denied, which, he said, made it clear to him why the administration did not want Cabinet officers addressing the issue publicly.

As of late Friday, there was no word from the departments whether the officials would or would not attend Wednesday’s hearing.

Anchoring the port

The Senate Transportation Committee will have its shot at bills that seek to rein in the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey after the Assembly Transportation Committee dealt with them earlier this year.

The Senate panel will hear two bills that address a number of issues: independent auditing, financial disclosures, gift and compensation restrictions, and more.

The Authority’s steep toll hike last year – and the stealth factor involved in its passage – angered people on both sides of the aisle in both states, and led to a number of bills being introduced in an attempt to establish greater accountability.

The bills cleared the lower-chamber panel already, and any such legislation would have to be OK’d in both states.

RGGI redux

Gov. Christie made it clear last year when he yanked New Jersey from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that he believed the Northeast states coalition was not helping New Jersey, that residents are suffering because of the utility bill tax, and that the market RGGI helped set in place is hurting, partially because the state has become a victim of its own success in becoming a national leader in solar energy installations.

In the aftermath of his decision, Democratic lawmakers have pushed legislation that would clarify that it is the express intent of the Legislature that the state remain a part of RGGI.

The Senate Energy Committee will take up such a bill that has some heavyweight backing: Sens. Steve Sweeney and Bob Smith.

The Senate president and the senator who chairs the energy panel want this issue front and center even though it would certainly face a veto.

A healthy exchange

Health insurance for the truly needy, another partisan issue, will be front and center again.

Democratic Sens. Nia Gill and Joseph Vitale will have a hearing for their bill calling for a statewide health insurance exchange.

The idea is to facilitate the purchase of coverage as part of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the makeover of health insurance coverage that has polarized much of the ongoing debate over health care in this country.

Among other things, the idea is to offer a basic health plan, consistent with the provisions of the federal act, to enable uninsured persons with incomes of between 133 and 200 percent of the federal poverty level to purchase essential health benefits.

Greater scrutiny of UEZs

Urban Enterprise Zones, another political football of the previous legislative session, will be dealt with in a bill that would require towns that have UEZs to establish five-year plans and to submit them to the Department of Community Affairs as a condition of continued participation.

One of the administration’s gripes with the UEZ program has been how the towns have been spending funds on purposes only marginally related to the actual UEZs.

Among other things, this bill – one of whose co-sponsors is Christie across-the-aisle ally Brian Stack, state senator and Union City mayor – would require DCA to work with towns on their growth plans and report to the administration and Legislature on progress made by UEZs.

Save the tiger

And a bill to restrict the illegal trade of tigers resurfaces in the Senate Budget Committee.

While a New Jersey resident needs a state permit merely to possess a tiger, there is nothing in the law that specifically forbids dealing in tiger body parts.


Weekly Advance: Week of Feb. 27