Morning News Digest: July 19, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
Assembly bill list paints a picture of would-be Supreme Court Justice Solomon
If reported Supreme Court nominee Lee Solomon gets his chance to go before the Senate Judiciary Committee, state lawmakers responsible for advice and consent will undoubtedly comb through his records and rulings during his tenure as a Superior Court judge.
However, there’s another treasure trove of information on Solomon from his time under the gold dome.
Solomon, who was appointed to the General Assembly in February 1991 to fill an unexpired term and who was elected to full terms in 1991 and 1993, was a state lawmaker who took up the cause of law and order, introducing dozens of bills that took a hard line against criminals or sought to protect the victims they preyed upon. (Arco, PolitickerNJ)
Halfway house hearings to begin
At least three members of the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee, which will hold a hearing on the state’s privately run halfway houses Thursday, have received campaign contributions over the years from Community Education Centers, a private firm that runs several of those facilities.
However, at least one of the lawmakers has returned the funds.
Sen. Barbara Buono, (D-18), Metuchen, sent out a statement shortly after the revelations of lax oversight at halfway houses were reported in an investigative piece by the New York Times. (Hassan, PolitickerNJ)
Kennedy of Christie: Mass. 4th District Dem candidate fundraises at Pal’s
New Jersey Democrats this afternoon welcomed Joe Kennedy III to Pal’s Cabin for a fundraiser hosted by the political allies of John Graham.
Kennedy is in a late Democratic Primary to secure his party’s line to run in a general election for a 4th District Massachusetts seat currently occupied by retiring U.S. Rep. Barney Frank.
“We saved the best for last,” former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) said of his cousin, the 31-year-old grandson of the late Robert Kennedy. “You’ll be proud that you were here to start his campaign.”
As he shook hands in the crowd, PolitickerNJ.com asked Joe Kennedy his opinion of Republican Gov. Chris Christie. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Kyrillos campaign responds to poll
The Kyrillos campaign struck back today after the latest Quinnipiac Poll gave U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez a 46-32 percent approval rating and a 47-34 percent lead over Kyrillos compared to a 45-35 percent lead in a May 16 survey
“After nearly two decades in Washington, Bob Menendez is still under 50 percent in the polls and has an anemic 37 percent favorability rating,” said Kyrillos campaign manager Chapin Fay in a release.
“That’s because Bob Menendez has failed New Jersey — unemployment is much higher, our deficit is much higher, and the standard of living for middle class families is lower than when he was elected to the Senate.” (Mooney, PolitickerNJ)
GOP: Chris Christie convention talk premature
Republicans say that, contrary to media reports, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has not been confirmed as the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
Neither the Romney campaign nor the Republican National Committee would confirm those reports.
“You”ll have to stay tuned,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said on MSNBC Wednesday afternoon.
Sources with the campaign say Romney is not prepared to announce any speakers yet. The New Jersey State GOP Committee said they knew nothing about it. (Weiner, The Washington Post)
Trenton’s mayor is hit with a raid
FBI agents staged a middle-of-the-night raid Wednesday at the home of Trenton’s mayor, whose administration of the state’s impoverished capital city has been marked by accusations of cronyism and reckless spending.They also searched the home of his brother and a convicted sex offender who was one of his biggest early campaign donors.
Mayor Tony Mack, emerging later in the morning from his home, denied having corrupted his office.
“We have not violated the public trust, nor have I violated any of my public duties, and that’s all I have to say on the matter,” he said. (Duffelmeyer, Associated Press)
N.J. comptroller urges towns, school boards to look into costly pension errors
Mayors and school board officials are being told to take a new look at employee pensions after New Jersey’s comptroller found poor oversight allows pension padding costing millions in taxpayer dollars.
The New Jersey League of Municipalities and the New Jersey School Boards Association sent out instructions in response to the report released this week by Comptroller Matthew Boxer, which showed how some local governments have permitted attorneys and other outside professionals to collect pension credits even after laws were passed to end their eligibility for retirement benefits. (Reitmeyer, The Record)
Law toughens penalties for fatal distracted driving
Drivers who kill someone while using a handheld cellphone can now be charged with vehicular homicide under a measure Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno signed into law Wednesday.
The law allows prosecutors to charge distracted drivers with vehicular homicide if they kill someone with an automobile.
The legislation is called the “Kulesh, Kubert and Bolis Law” in recognition of the victims of three distracted-driving crashes in New Jersey.
“If you wouldn’t drink and drive, ladies and gentlemen, you shouldn’t text and drive,” said Guadagno, who is the acting governor while Governor Christie is out of the state campaigning for presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. (Linhorst, The Record)
Top Democrat joins debate over outside money in DOE
It’s not a typical request from a ranking legislator, but state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) doesn’t always follow the beaten path.
Last week, Weinberg announced in a press release that she had filed an Open Public Records Act request to the Christie administration for information on a now-familiar topic: who’s paying for what jobs in the state Department of Education.
The request was largely a repeat of an OPRA request made by one of the administration’s prime antagonists, the Education Law Center of Newark, Weinberg said, and it appeared to raise few new lines of inquiry. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Teacher ratings to remain hidden
If you think the new education reform bill means you’ll get to see what grade your child’s teacher receives on his or her evaluation, think again.
The grades, part of a teacher tenure reform bill that sits on Gov. Chris Christie’s desk, would be kept secret.
The proposal for yearly evaluations for teachers and principals sailed through both houses of the Legislature last month. But the 18-page bill contains a barely noticed, one-sentence passage shielding the grades: “Information related to the evaluation of a particular employee shall be maintained by the school district, shall be confidential, and shall not be accessible to the public.” (Jordan and Boyd, Asbury Park Press)
Tax cuts’ expiration would have outsized effect on N.J., economist says
While high-income earners represent less than 6 percent of New Jersey taxpayers, they account for nearly 57 percent of all federal personal income taxes paid from the state, compared to less than 50 percent nationally, according to a study by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation.
That means if President Barack Obama allows the George Bush-era tax cuts to expire for those earning more than $200,000 a year, high earners in the state will see their tax burden increase disproportionately compared to the rest of the country, taking more consumer buying power out of the state and hurting New Jersey’s economy, a tax expert said. (Eder, NJBIZ)
Towns prepare legal action in case state seizes affordable housing funds
The Gov. Chris Christie administration could today begin transferring up to $161 million from towns’ affordable housing trust funds to the state’s general budget, though an appellate court ruling last week prevents the administration from seizing funds without giving written notice to local officials and providing a forum to argue the state’s claim that their dollars were not committed to projects.
However, a local government representative said, the 221 municipalities with trust accounts have not yet been given notice, and are preparing to immediately launch litigation if funds are taken. (Eder, NJBIZ)
BPU orders JCP&L to justify its rates
The state’s second-largest electric utility has been ordered to open its books and justify its rates to the Board of Public Utilities.
The BPU voted Wednesday to require Jersey Central Power & Light to file a base rate case, the result of a petition filed in September by State Division of Rate Counsel Director Stefanie Brand. In her petition, Brand said her office had reason to believe JCP&L was receiving an unreasonable rate of return from ratepayers, a charge the utility denies.
The filing “will allow the board, rate counsel and other interested parties to evaluate whether the company is providing safe, adequate and proper service at just and reasonable rates,” BPU President Bob Hanna said in a press release. (Kaltwasser, NJBIZ)
JCP&L: Earning too much, spending too little?
The state yesterday ordered Jersey Central Power & Light to file a base rate case by November, a step that could lead to lower rates for its 1 million customers and could force the utility to spend more to restore customer service in the event of blackouts.
The order by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities came in response to a request from the state Division of Rate Counsel, which last fall suggested the utility is earning more than justified from its customers.
The state’s second-largest electric utility has been under fire from local officials, ratepayers, and the Christie administration for months now, primarily because of its slow response in restoring power during Hurricane Irene last summer and a rare fall snowstorm, which left hundreds of thousands of customers without power for as long as a week. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
More states passing laws against prosecuting people who call 911 to report drug overdoses
The morning after Salvatore Marchese left his mother’s house for a session of outpatient treatment for his heroin addiction, he was found slumped behind the wheel of her car, dead of an overdose. He apparently hadn’t been alone: His wallet was missing and the car’s passenger seat was left in a reclined position. But whoever was with him when he was using drugs was long gone by the time the police arrived.
When Patty DiRenzo learned what happened to her son, she wondered: “How could somebody leave somebody to die?”
Now, DiRenzo, of Blackwood, N.J., is part of a nationwide push to make sure people won’t be too afraid of being arrested to call 911 when they or someone they’re with has overdosed. Eight states have passed laws since 2007 that give people limited immunity on drug possession charges if they seek medical help for an overdose. A similar proposal is being considered in the District of Columbia but faces uncertain prospects because of opposition from police and prosecutors. (Associated Press)
Federal government probing toll increases on Delaware River bridges
The federal Government Accountability Office is investigating toll increases on area Delaware River bridges as part of a broader look at toll increases and tolling authorities.
The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, wants to know how toll increases are determined and why.
The agency has asked the Delaware River Port Authority and other toll agencies for information about recent hikes.
Tolls last went up on DRPA’s four bridges on July 1, 2011, to $5 for cars, from $4. Tolls had been raised to $4 in September 2008, from $3. (Nussbaum, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
When Martin Tuchman first approached Peter Wise about writing a how-to book on creating a soup kitchen, he turned him down. Wise had just retired after nine years at the helm of the and was feeling burned out and in need of a break.
That was 2007. Two years later, after having been approached by Tuchman and fellow TASK board member Irwin Stoolmacher, Wise had a change of heart. The recession was taking hold and it became more apparent than ever that there was a need to expand the emergency food system to help more people. And there was a need to make sure people understood both the legal and logistical issues they’d face. (Kalet, NJ Spotlight)
Without explanation, West Orange school board places superintendent on leave
An Essex County school board superintendent was placed on paid leave in an emergency meeting last night and an interim head was announced, officials said.
West Orange Board of Education superintendent Anthony P. Cavanna had one year left on his contract when the school board voted unanimously to suspend him, a school board spokeswoman said.
Cavanna will be replaced during the leave by the current assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, Donna Rando, said board president Laura Lab in a statement. (Dinges, The Star-Ledger)
Drug court bill to be signed into law
Gov. Chris Christie’s office said he will sign the drug court program bill Thursday.
His office said Christie will return to the Rescue Mission in Trenton, where he proposed expansion of drug court earlier this year, and sign S881. (Staff, State Street Wire)
Housing starts nationally at best pace in over 3 years
The federal government provided some optimistic news on the housing front today.
The Commerce Department reported that for June new housing starts were at a seasonally adjusted rate of 760,000, an increase of 6.9 percent above the May revised estimate of 711,000. (Staff, State Street Wire)
Chevron to pay N.J. $231,000 in civil penalty to resolve Perth Amboy plant concerns
Chevron U.S.A. Inc. will pay New Jersey a civil penalty of $231,875 to settle allegations regarding air pollution law violations at an asphalt refinery in Perth Amboy.
The Attorney General and Department of Environmental Protection announced that as part of a joint state-federal settlement, Chevron also will pay the federal government the same amount in a civil penalty. (Staff, State Street Wire)
The case for Chris Christie as VP
Tom Bevan of RealClearPolitics makes the case today for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – currently rumored to be the GOP convention keynoter — as Mitt Romney’s running mate.
According to Bevan, the problem with the most prominent candidates on the short list – Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal – is that they lack the “conspicuous toughness and natural bellicosity” needed to push back against “the Chicago Way.” (Mahtesian, Politico)