Weekly Roundup: Week of July 23

TRENTON – Christopher Cerf is one step closer to having the “acting” tag removed from the education commissioner’s job he has held for some 19 months.

Despite some disappointment from one lawmaker, Sen. Nick Scutari, (D-22), of Linden, about the reason Cerf gave for moving to Montgomery, Cerf’s strong qualifications made his nomination to the Education Department’s top job a slam dunk this week.

The move by Cerf from Montclair to Montgomery, where he spends much of the work week, enabled him to bypass the hold-up of his nomination by Sen. Ron Rice, (D-28), of Newark, due to senatorial courtesy.

His nomination will go before the full Senate for a vote.

EDA changes

The Economic Development Authority will soon be run by a familiar face within the Christie Administration.

Michelle Brown will replace longtime CEO Caren Franzini, despite not having much of a financial background. She will earn the same salary Franzini had been making, $225,000. Franzini had been there since the Florio Administration.

Gun laws

The tragedy at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater where 12 people were killed and 58 people were injured by a gunman reignited the gun control debate. While Sen. Frank Lautenberg called for strong gun laws, Gov. Christie said the Garden State’s gun laws are already strong and sufficient. But he didn’t talk much more about it, saying the time should be spent mourning for families who suffered so much.

Halfway houses

The grueling seven-hour hearing involving halfway houses held by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee had its moments of contention.

Assemblyman Joe Cryan, (D-20), of Union, blew up, saying it was an insult to every resident of New Jersey that the CEO of the for-profit company that runs the problem-ridden facilities, John Clancy, couldn’t get his “ass” at the hearing. Clancy had previously informed the committee he would be out of town.

Comptroller Matthew Boxer, who spoke at the hearing, said he would do a follow up investigation of the facilities, and recommend the law be clarified regarding the operation of such facilities that involved nonprofit companies and for-profit companies.

Red lights  

They’re gone. Nope. They’re back.

The 63 of 85 intersections that had their red-light camera programs suspended, due to shorter-than expected yellow-light times, will be resumed. Expect drivers to slam on brakes like they did before in order to not go past the white line.

Port Authority accountability

Gov. Christie conditionally vetoed the Legislature’s bipartisan Port Authority Transparency and Accountability Act Thursday.

The governor said the legislation failed to take up the Shadow Government Reform he proposed in March 2011. Christie’s conditional veto amends the legislation to incorporate the Shadow Government Reform, which would give him veto power over the minutes of the various agencies and authorities that are presently not subject to it.

Senate and Assembly Democrats issued a statement Thursday afternoon calling the conditional veto “nonsensical,” and accusing the governor of continuing to “protect the scandal-ridden, multi-billion dollar agency,” according to the N.J. Legislative Democrats’ release.

RGGI Bill

Christie also vetoed a  bill that sought to keep the state as a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

S1322/A1998, which passed in the Legislature, received an absolute veto.

The bill said that it was inconsistent with legislative intent to withdraw the state from the Northeast compact, but Christie, who signed a solar energy bill earlier this week, turned the RGGI bill aside.

Christie has said among other things that RGGI placed the state at a competitive disadvantage.

Judges/pensions

The state Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that judicial pensions for sitting judges are protected under the state Constitution. The 3-2 decision was handed down after the administration was sued over the context of the landmark reform as it pertained to a judge’s salary.

The high court affirmed the lawsuit filed by Judge Paul DePascale of Hudson County. He argued the state Constitution strictly prohibits a judge’s salary from being reduced while he or she is a sitting judge.

The court ruled the pensions and benefits legislation violates Chapter 78 of the New Jersey Constitution because it diminishes the salaries of justices and judges during the terms of their appointments.

DePascale’s suit claimed that in response to the state’s landmark pension overhaul, his biweekly benefit deductions will increase from $126 to $698 over the next seven years.

Justices Jaynee LaVecchia and Barry Albin, and Judge Dorothea Wefing (temporarily assigned) ruled in the majority. Justices Anne Patterson and Helen Hoens dissented, saying in their opinions that health benefits and pension payments do not fall under the umbrella of salaries. Chief Justice Stuart Rabner recused himself from the case.

Most state judges pay about 3 percent of their salary. The new reforms would have required them to pay 12 percent over the course of a seven year phase-in period.

A constitutional amendment will now be considered in which voters will have the final say.

 

Weekly Roundup: Week of July 23