TRENTON – The New Jersey Assembly – as expected – signed off on a proposal that will let voters decide whether judges should contribute more to their pensions.
Assembly lawmakers took to the lower chamber floor shortly after Senate lawmakers passed the measure, SCR110, by a unanimous vote.
The move to attempt to change the Constitution was spurred by the state Supreme Court ruling a week ago that said it is unconstitutional to tamper with salaries of sitting judges, and that the state’s 2011 overhaul of pensions and benefits for public employees can’t be used to force judges to contribute higher amounts to their pensions.
“I am both relieved and heartened that we have taken this action,” said Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, (R-13), Belford, the proposal’s sponsor in the lower chamber.
Assemblymen Joseph Cryan, (D-20), Union, and Michael Patrick Carroll, (R-25), Morris Plains, and Assemblywoman Marlene Caride, (D-36), Ridgefield, opposed the proposal.
“This is so open-ended,” he said, referring to the wording of the proposed constitutional amendment.
“Judges should pay more,” he said, adding, “It will pass and judges should pay more,” but that the loose wording of the proposal will put the “independent judiciary at risk” over the long haul, Cryan said.
The near unanimous vote also came with a bit of controversy.
Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21) called out Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34) after it became clear that lawmakers would not have an opportunity to address the floor on their vote.
“What’s most disconcerting is to stop debate on the floor,” Bramnick told reporters following the vote.
The Assembly minority leader stood up during the voting session and asked Oliver for a chance to discuss the measure. Oliver responded by telling Bramnick that he could not address the Assembly during a vote and that lawmakers would have a chance to discuss the proposal following the vote.
Only two lawmakers – Cryan and Handlin, one Democrat and one Republican – were permitted to give a speech on the floor following the vote.
With today’s two votes, the measure now proceeds to the voters in November.
An Assembly Democratic spokesman, Tom Hester, disputed Bramnick’s claim that Oliver stopped debate on the proposal.
It’s simple really. The bill was moved by the majority leader and no one asked to speak so the speaker opened the machine,” Hester said in an e-mail.
“The request to speak didn’t come until after the machine was open and the speaker, out of courtesy, allowed (Assemblywoman) Handlin to speak as the bill sponsor. The speaker didn’t have to do that but allowed it out of courtesy,” he continued. “The speaker allowed one (Democrat) and one (Republican) to speak when all was said and done.”