Morning News Digest: March 6, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
Judge dismisses union pension lawsuit
A federal judge has dismissed a case brought by several state unions seeking to overturn the pension overhaul enacted last summer, according to a release from the state Policeman’s Benevolent Association.
The suit was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds and did not rule on the actual merits of the case brought by the PBA, the New Jersey Education Association, the Communication Workers of America and other public employee unions. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Surveillance must be considered case by case Christie says
Gov. Chris Christie said today that law enforcement surveillance programs initiated without probable cause are not inherently wrong and should be reviewed on a case by case basis.
The governor was responding to a question about the New York City Police Department’s surveillance of Muslim groups in New Jersey and at 16 area colleges. The NYPD has drawn condemnation for the program that monitors Muslim groups without probable cause. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Mosquera takes the oath of office
After a tortured, now you see her, now you don’t process, Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera (D-4) this afternoon received the oath of office from Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34) to become the newest Democratic member of the General Assembly.
“We are excited and honored to finally have Gabby joining us as a member of the General Assembly,” said Oliver. “She brings an abundance of institutional knowledge and a fervent commitment to the working families of this state. I know that she will represent her constituents proudly in Trenton.” (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Christie administration announces plan to share $675M in charity care payments among N.J. hospitals
The Christie administration announced today how New Jersey’s hospitals will share $675 million in charity care payments to cover some of the costs of treating the working poor and the uninsured in the next fiscal year.
About 90 percent of the money will go toward maintaining the same compensation levels as in the current fiscal year, according to Mary O’Dowd, the commissioner of Health and Senior Services, with the remainder shifted from hospitals that treated fewer uninsured patients to those who treated more from to 2009 to 2010, the most recent figures available. (Livio, The Star-Ledger)
Christie: Change the way at-risk students are counted
Gov. Chris Christie announced Monday that he’s looking for another way to count impoverished students whose districts qualify for additional school aid because the existing measure — participation in a subsidized school lunch program — is rife with fraud and may be to blame for the misdirection of tens of millions of dollars.
Christie signed an executive order convening a task force and giving it four months to come up with a new way to count economically disadvantaged students. The Republican governor also took aim at tax abatement programs, which he said might artificially deflate a community’s tax ratable base, another factor in determining aid to public school districts under the state school funding formula. (Delli Santi, Associated Press)
Making a sizable exception to the tenure reform bill
A few critical words at the top of page 14 of the proposed tenure reform bill caused quite a stir yesterday at a Senate hearing on the measure.
The new rules — which redefine how New Jersey teachers earn and keep tenure — will not apply to “those who acquired tenure prior to the effective date” of the bill.
In other words, the bill put forward by state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), the bill that has been given the best chance yet of overhauling New Jersey’s century-old tenure system, will be grandfathered in. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Union, Christie rap tenure fix
A landmark teacher tenure reform bill was criticized by Gov. Chris Christie’s administration and the state’s largest teachers union during its first public hearing Monday.
Christie’s officials targeted a grandfather provision to protect current teachers, while the union, the New Jersey Education Association, insisted that educators get a hearing before they are fired for incompetence.
No vote was taken before the state Senate Education Committee. The bill’s sponsor, M. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, the committee chairwoman, signaled that she would consider amending the legislation. (Method, Gannett)
Lawmaker fights for more openness in NJ records
“I was blocked time and time again in the OPRA [Open Public Records Act] process,” said Buono, who 18 months ago had trouble getting the state Department of Education to provide information about how NJ lost out on a $400 million federal grant. “In the end I had to go to some very extensive lengths to get the information … It was a painful process of subpoenaing the fired education commissioner before the committee.”
Buono recalled the difficulty getting facts on New Jersey’s failed Race to the Top application for the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee during a hearing Monday on bills to clarify and strengthen the open meetings and records laws. The bills cleared the committee and were sent to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. (O’Dea, NJ Spotlight)
Despite threat, panel approves online casino gambling bill
A state Senate committee advanced a bill Monday that would allow online casino gambling, despite opposition from the horse racing industry that included the threat of legal action.
Gov. Chris Christie vetoed online casino legislation that reached his desk last year, citing several concerns, including a component that would dedicate some of the new revenue to horse racing purse subsidies. Christie said the benefits should go to the Atlantic City casinos. (Jordan, Gannett)
Mixed results in N.J. Legislature for online gambling bill
The fate of online gaming in New Jersey remained murky Monday after a state Senate panel approved a revised bill, but an Assembly committee did not vote following hearing.
Governor Christie, meanwhile, said that he was waiting for guidance from his state Attorney General’s office about whether residents statewide would have to vote on the issue in a November referendum before he would sign an online gaming bill.
Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, vice chairman of the Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee, said the panel was going along “two tracks,” depending on whether a referendum would be held. (Brennan, The Record)
Bill allowing Atlantic City gambling on mobile devices moves forward in N.J. Assembly
A bill allowing Atlantic City patrons to gamble using mobile devices moved one step forward in the Assembly today.
The measure (A2575) is aimed at younger customers who are adept at — and almost addicted to — using hand-held devices.
The bill, sponsored by Assemblymen John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester) and Ruben Ramos Jr. (D-Hudson), has support from casino executives but has raised concerns over how the devices will be regulated and kept out of the hands of minors. (Spoto, The Star-Ledger)
Vitale authors bill to expand health screening coverage to adoptees
For New Jersey adoptees, questions about family medical history can be difficult to answer, but state Sen. Joseph Vitale has authored a bill to expand early screening insurance coverage to adoptees.
Vitale (D-Woodbridge) said the bill is before the mandate study committee, where the cost of expanding coverage would be analyzed.
“It would expand the ability for adoptees to be screened and have insurance cover it, because as it is now … unless you have family history or known family history, or are at risk, insurance won’t pay for those claims until you reach a certain age,” Vitale said. (Caliendo, NJBIZ)
N.J. takes action on bills to convert foreclosed homes into affordable housing
An Assembly panel Monday approved a bill intended to transform foreclosed homes into affordable housing.
Under the bill (A2168), which was passed 4-1 by the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee, municipalities would have 45 days to decide whether to buy houses situated in their jurisdiction through the state’s $268 million affordable housing trust fund.
If they do, municipalities would receive a two-for-one credit against affordable housing obligations. (Staff, The Star-Ledger)
Senate panel clears bill increasing sentence for anyone who harbors sex offenders
Anyone convicted of harboring sex offenders or impeding their arrest would face a mandatory prison sentence of three years under a bill (S622) that cleared a Senate panel today.
The sentence would also apply to those who help offenders skirt around registration requirements.
“The public has a right to know when sex offenders are inhabiting their communities, and those who stand in the way of that right deserve to be brought to justice,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-Union), the bill’s sponsor. (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
Secret NYPD surveillance in N.J. was not so secret, former officials say
It was no secret.
Although recent disclosures that in 2007 the New York Police Department spied on Muslims in New Jersey have unleashed a furor, interviews with a dozen former state and federal officials show the department’s presence here was widely known among the state’s law enforcement officials.
In fact, it seems that after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, almost everyone — including Gov. Chris Christie, who was U.S. Attorney for New Jersey at the time — knew to varying degrees the NYPD was scouring the state, where some of the hijackings were planned and one was launched. (Baxter, The Star-Ledger)
Federal judge tosses NJ unions’ pension suit
A federal judge on Monday threw out a lawsuit brought by New Jersey teachers, police officers, firefighters and public workers challenging a law that requires them to pay more for their pensions and health benefits.
U.S. District Court Judge Anne Thompson dismissed the lawsuit on jurisdictional grounds.
Policemen’s Benevolent Association President Anthony Wieners said he’s disappointed the judge didn’t consider the merits of the unions’ claims. He said an appeal will be filed. (Delli Santi, Associated Press)
Council sued by mayor
In yet another chapter of a politically charged back-and-forth that has been going on for more than 19 months, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs has filed a lawsuit against the City Council in the wake of the governing body’s vote to reprimand her and fine her $200.
The council’s actions came as the end result of a lengthy independent investigation into the mayor’s decision to spend $20,000 in municipal funds on an Aug. 1, 2010, anti-violence radio broadcast featuring the Rev. Al Sharpton. But Robinson-Briggs’ lawsuit, filed Friday in Elizabeth, alleges that the council overstepped its authority by taking such actions. The filing demands that the council permanently withdraw its resolution, cover her attorneys’ fees and costs of the suit, and award her any other relief the court deems proper. (Spivey, Gannett)
Deborah Dowdell, president of NJ Restaurant Association, dies of cancer
Deborah Dowdell, the long-time president of the New Jersey Restaurant Association, died after a long battle with cancer. She was 46.
A Highland Park resident, Dowdell represented the state’s largest private-sector employer, with 311,000 workers at more than 25,000 businesses. She joined the group in 1990 as director of membership and worked her way through the organization until she was named president in 2003.
In 2009, she was named to Gov. Chris Christie’s transition team, working on economic growth and development issues. (Diamond, Gannett)
Unions enter university merger fray
A coalition of 11 labor unions representing employees of Rutgers, Rowan and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey will offer testimony today before the Senate and Assembly Higher Education Committees on the proposed realignment of the three institutions.
While Gov. Chris Christie and his hand-picked committee negotiate details of a possible merger, labor wants a seat at the table to protect an estimated 20,000 jobs and to ensure that the quality of the institutions and its community service is not diminished. (Stilwell, Gannett)
The tough task of making offshore wind pay
The state’s offshore wind development law is working as intended — even though two consultants panned the first proposed wind farm, concluding that the benefits of the project are outweighed by its cost to ratepayers, according to Christie administration officials.
Testifying at a legislative hearing on progress to develop several wind farms off the coast of New Jersey, the thumbs down given to the Fishermen’s Energy project three miles off Atlantic City should not be viewed as a failure, according to Stefanie Brand, director of the Division of Rate Counsel. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Nearly $1B for N.J. hospitals
New Jersey hospitals will share in nearly $1 billion as part of the governor’s fiscal year 2013 proposed budget.
Distribution amounts for 72 hospitals were issued by the Department of Health and Senior Services.
Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed budget allocates nearly $1 billion in funding for Charity Care, Graduate Medical Education and the Hospital Relief Subsidy Fund. (Staff, State Street Wire)
Bills to expand OPRA, OPMA released from State Government committee
Two bills (S1451 and S1452) aimed at increasing government transparency were released from the State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee meeting on Monday afternoon along party lines by a 3-0-2 vote.
Republican senators Dawn Marie Addiego, (R-8), Medford, and Samuel Thompson, (R-12), Old Bridge, abstained, saying they didn’t have a chance to read last-minute amendments to the bills. (Smith, State Street Wire)
EDA chief: $882M in financial incentives in 2011
Economic Development Authority Commissioner Caren Franzini said 2011 was a successful year for business and economic growth in New Jersey.
“We’ve had a very busy year,” Franzini said during an appearance before the Assembly Commerce Committee today. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Tainted fill dirt being removed from Bound Brook site
Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin today announced that work has begun to remove approximately 40,000 cubic yards of fill dirt that was placed illegally within the flood zone of the Raritan River in Bound Brook, Somerset County. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Christie backs Brown
Gov.Chris Christie is set to endorse U.S. Sen Scott Brown of Massachusetts in his reelection bid.
Christie is headlining a fundraiser for Brown Monday at the Westin Copley in Boston.
“Scott Brown and I share a commitment to taking on today’s most difficult challenges by reforming government, balancing budgets and making tough choices,” Christie said in a statement released by the Brown campaign. “He is battling to bring the same kind of fiscal discipline to Washington that I am fighting for in New Jersey. Scott cuts through the baloney and calls the issues like he sees them, and I am proud to endorse his campaign.” (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Super Tuesday looking good for Romney
A slew of polls were released on the eve of sorta-Super Tuesday. It’s not quite the stellar lineup originally planned. Texas pushed its primary back to May because of Congressional redistricting hiccups and Virginia is already in the Mitt Romney column because Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich failed to qualify for the ballot there. Regardless, the signs point to the inevitability of a Romney nomination if he does well on March 6.
The polling aggregators at both Real Clear Politics and Huffington Post show the closely watched state of Ohio as a dead heat. However, the trend lines clearly show Romney gaining and Santorum dropping over the past week. And as we saw last week in Michigan, that trend was predictive of the final outcome. (Murray, PolitickerNJ)
The more moderate, yogi-like Christie
Governor Christie trotted out a new role Monday as the GOP’s calm, all-seeing, all knowing yogi. He even recommended breathing exercises.
“We’ll get through it,” Christie said at a State House news conference. “Everybody who gets frantic with this stuff in my party should take a deep breath and relax. The election is not for eight months.”
Voters are desperate for an economic rebirth, but the GOP “conversation” is consumed with birth control, leaving establishment Republicans fearing a meltdown in November. Some worry that the recent fixation on social wedge issues will scare away women, independents and even some soft Democrats disgusted with President Obama’s stewardship. Debating prescription coverage for contraceptives might be perfectly acceptable in the privacy of a party retreat, but on the campaign trail, it’s a prescription for disaster. (Stile, The Record)
Christie calls for calm in political storm
Rush Limbaugh has apologized once again. Republican presidential candidates are struggling to avoid saying the wrong thing. And the Internet is on fire with those either agreeing with or excoriating those who seek mandated insurance coverage for contraceptives are morally reprehensible.
Gov. Chris Christie’s advice?
“Everybody’s who kind of frantic about this stuff in my party should take a deep breath and relax,” the governor said at a press conference on Monday. (Schoonejongen, Gannett)