Weekly Advance: Week of July 23

TRENTON – The week begins much how the last week ended – with halfway houses.

The Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee is slated to kick things off with a Monday morning hearing into the “troubling lack of oversight at New Jersey halfway houses,” according to Assembly Democrat notices.

The hearing comes after the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee met last week – bumping up the panel’s original hearing date by a week, lest not to be in the shadow of the lower chamber – to seek advice on how the Legislature could best improve the current system.

Both hearings were called in response to two unflattering reports on the program.

The first was a 2011 audit conducted by the state’s Comptroller’s Office that highlighted dozens of issues with the facilities, among them concerns over a lack of oversight by the Department of Corrections and nearly a half million dollars of overpayments made to companies that manage the programs.

The second was a scathing series in The New York Times last month, which detailed some of the lax security and regulations surrounding the facilities, as well as the high number of escapees over the years.

Senate lawmakers heard testimony from corrections officers and members of the Police Benevolent Association who used the words “horror show” to described one of the state’s halfway houses in Essex County, saying prison inmates would rather spend time in solitary confinement than be sent to the halfway house Delaney Hall because they know how dangerous it can be to stay at the facility, according to their testimony.

But before the PBA spoke, lawmakers heard from stakeholders in the halfway house program and asked some of the presidents and CEOs of the nonprofits managing the facilities how the state could provide better oversight without hampering the programs – which they seemed to agree is beneficial in that it saves the state money and serves as a re-entry program for offenders.

The chairman of the Senate panel, Sen. Robert Gordon, (D-38), Fair Lawn, said from the get-go that the hearing wouldn’t be a witch hunt – and it wasn’t.

Now, comes the Assembly’s turn.

The hearing, slated for 10:30 a.m., has the possibility to take a different tone, at least Assembly Democrats would have you think that by the pitch set in a news release quoting the committee’s chairman, Assemblyman Charles Mainor,  (D-31), Jersey City.

“This is a serious matter that deserves close scrutiny, especially in light of Gov. Christie’s indefensible line-item vetoes of stricter halfway house oversight,” Mainor said in the statement. “The longer we allow this system to continue as-is unchecked, the more we jeopardize the safety and well being of the public at large. As we’ve seen, it’s had tragic results already.”

“Corzine Democrats”

Gov. Chris Christie spent a good amount of time out of state last week and can be expected to make his rounds across the nation stumping for presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and fundraising for the Republican Party here and there over the summer.

In between travel, Christie can also be expected to spend time at the Jersey shore, blasting the “Corzine Democrats” for not delivering on immediate tax cut relief for New Jersey residents.

The governor has yet to sign the Legislature’s teacher tenure reform bill, which he could take up sometime next week, but more than anything else, plan on a beach tour where the governor will get his message in the papers without fielding questions from reporters.

Senate Judiciary

Speaking of the governor, Christie’s appointee to lead the state’s Department of Education is slated to go before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.

Acting Commissioner Christopher Cerf has been heading the agency for nearly two years, and on Thursday, Senate lawmakers will question him on his qualifications and ultimately interview him for the job.

With Cerf’s name being on the list of officials to go before the Senate panel, it’s possible that he will, sometime in the future, have the “acting” part of his title removed.

Monday

Gov. Chris Christie

Not yet scheduled

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno

Not yet scheduled

Legislature

Assembly

10:30 a.m., Law and Public Safety Committee, Rm. 11, Statehouse Annex, Trenton

Boards and Commissions

2:30 p.m., N.J. Department of Agriculture, visit to Wightman’s farm, 1111 Mount Kemble Avenue, Morristown, with Assembly Speaker Kuldeep Sharma from the Indian state of Haryana, and Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher

 

Tuesday

Gov. Chris Christie

Not yet scheduled

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno

Not yet scheduled

Legislature

Nothing scheduled

Boards and Commissions

10 a.m., Camden Economic Recovery Board, Waterfront Technology Center, 200 Federal St., Camden

 

Wednesday

Gov. Chris Christie

Not yet scheduled

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno

Not yet scheduled

Legislature

Nothing scheduled

Boards and Commissions

6 p.m., Department of Environmental Protection, N.J. State Police, radiological emergency response plan hearing, Salem County Department of Emergency Services, 135 Cemetery Road, Mannington; informational meeting at 6 p.m.; formal hearing at 7 p.m.

6 p.m., N.J. Turnpike Authority, public hearing, Interchange 14A  improvement project, toll plaza widening, Washington Community School, multipurpose room, 191 Avenue B, Bayonne

Daily Events

8:30 a.m., N.J. Business and Industry Association, HR201: Putting It All Into Practice, advanced topics in human resources, Forsgate Country Club, 375 Forsgate Drive, Monroe

6 p.m., N.J. African-American Chamber of Commerce, kicking off partnership with New Brunswick Jazz Project, Hyatt Regency New Brunswick, 2 Albany St., New Brunswick

 

Thursday

Gov. Chris Christie

Not yet scheduled

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno

Not yet scheduled

Legislature

Senate

10 a.m., Judiciary Committee, Rm. 4, Statehouse Annex, Trenton

12 p.m., Quorum, Senate chambers, Statehouse, Trenton

 

Friday

Gov. Chris Christie

Not yet scheduled

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno

Not yet scheduled

Legislature

Nothing scheduled

 

Weekly Advance: Week of July 23