Weekly Roundup: Week of April 16

TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill into law that grew out of an emotional case.

Named after a Hamilton girl who was left wheelchair-bound following a road rage accident, the Jessica Rogers Law will increase penalties for motorists whose aggressive driving caused injury to another person.

Instead of being charged with a disorderly person’s offense, the driver can now be subject to a third-degree offense, which is punishable by three to five years in jail and a fine of up $15,000. Motorists can also be sentenced to up to 18 months in jail and face a $10,000 fine for aggressive driving that results in lesser injuries.

Aggressive driving can include tailgating, erratic and improper lane changing and unexpected accelerations of speed.

Rogers said she doesn’t believe the four-month sentence the aggressive driver served in her case was severe enough because she is suffering “a life sentence.”

Port Authority potshots

A mostly quite week produced some fireworks near the end when Gov. Chris Christie took some potshots at his political adversary, Democratic U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, calling him among other things, a “toll scofflaw.” 

He was referring to Lautenberg enjoying a perk for having served as a commissioner on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey back in the day.

PANYNJ Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni came under heavy questioning from Lautenberg during a hearing into toll fairness, and Baroni pointed out during the contentious Senate hearing that Lautenberg took advantage of a Port Authority program that allowed the senator to avoid paying tolls at Hudson River crossings for 24 years.

Diversionary tactics 

On the budget committee front, on at least two occasions, Democrats accused the administration of diverting funds from various departments back into the general fund  presumably to close budget holes.

At the Department of Children and Families hearing, Assemblyman John Burzichelli, (D-3), Paulsboro, said he believed the department could use more of the money to improve its child welfare operations, especially since it’s coming up short in meeting all of the criteria that were set in a federal monitor’s report.

He was referring to the $58 million that is expected to lapse from the department’s budget and back into the Treasury Fund.

Over at the Senate Budget Committee, Nellie Poe, (D-35), North Haledon, Sen. Paul Sarlo, (D-36), Wood-Ridge, and Sen. Linda Greenstein, (D-14), Plainsboro, all said that $200 million in municipal affordable housing trust funds were being siphoned away from towns and being used for other purposes besides construction of affordable homes.

But Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable said the department was doing nothing wrong, given that a law was passed in 2008, mostly by Democrats, that clearly stated that the state would take over the funds if the towns didn’t spend it themselves to provide affordable housing.

Now that time has come.

Jobs picture

After six consecutive months of consistent job growth, the state’s employment picture dimmed somewhat, as the state lost 8,600 jobs in March, according to Labor Department data released on Thursday.

Despite that, Christie said he’s not going to change any of his policies, saying the lost jobs were indicative of a generally soft recovery nationwide, and that adjustments like these will take place periodically. Weekly Roundup: Week of April 16