Weekly Roundup: Week of July 30

TRENTON – Several lawmakers said it was about re-establishing respect for the Legislature as an equal member of the triumvirate

TRENTON – Several lawmakers said it was about re-establishing respect for the Legislature as an equal member of the triumvirate that includes the Executive and Judicial branches of government.

Maybe it was about re-establishing legislative authority over what some believe is an out-of-control judicial branch.

Before Monday was half over, first the Senate then the Assembly passed the constitutional amendment that – if voters support it in November – will require judges to do what the state Supreme Court last month said they don’t have to: kick in more for their public pensions.

There was talk from both sides of the aisle during Monday’s voting sessions about shared sacrifice, there was talk about putting more money into a system so that it doesn’t someday go broke, there was talk about how the Constitution is a living document that merits change when necessary, and all of that has some measure of truth.

But there was also more than a little testiness in some lawmakers’ remarks as they set about reminding the judges who is driving the car.

“These people cannot understand plain English,’’ said Sen. Sam Thompson, (R-12), Old Bridge in reference to the judges.

The justices had ruled that the portion of last year’s pension overhaul that affected sitting judges’ salaries was unconstitutional.

So as the week dawned, the lawmakers took steps to change the Constitution. Gov. Chris Christie applauded them for it, and now the measure advances to the citizens’ hands.

Acting no longer

It took more time than either Chris Cerf or his boss, Christie, would have liked, but on Monday the Senate stripped the word “acting’’ from the Education commissioner’s title.

Long a victim of senatorial courtesy that held up his nomination hearing until just recently, Cerf will continue doing the work he has been doing since late 2010.

Mixed greens

Environmentalists saw some advances but more setbacks this week.

On the one hand, Christie oversaw the groundbreaking for a solar farm project of PSE&G in Hackensack.

PSE&G CEO Ralph Izzo said the utility will request New Jersey Board of Public Utilities approval to invest up to $883 million for an additional 233 megawatts of solar expansion.

And Christie praised the fact this project was under way “without the heavy hand of government involved.”

But the environmental lobby saw that heavy hand in other ways this week. They claim the state is reducing beach access for the public, and is now accepting applications to possibly waive strict compliance with environmental regulations.

Environmentalists testified at a hearing before the Department of Environmental Protection that proposed rules involving the state Department of Transportation and so-called “linear’’ projects like highways will lead to disruptions of beach access for the public, a claim DEP strongly disputes.

Then a coalition of environmental groups staged a press conference and mock auction of environmental regulations in front of DEP offices in Trenton on the first day of the so-called waiver rule.

That rule gives applicants an opportunity to plead hardship under certain circumstances and proceed with projects that otherwise might be blocked by environmental regulations.

Environmentalists such as Denise Patel of the N.J. Work Environment Council called the waiver rule an “incredible consolidation of power in the Executive branch.”

But DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese said the opponents’ claims are distortions and exaggerations. He said that DEP can’t grant waivers that would be violations of state or federal law, and that DEP will not be granting as many waivers as the opponents were claiming would be granted.

DUI troubles

Two lawmakers from Gloucester County found themselves on the wrong side of the law this week.

State Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, (D-4), Washington Township, faces DWI charges that he strongly disputes. 

He refused to take a Breathalyzer test following the traffic stop, and he said the arresting officer was engaging in an abuse of power.

Also this week, the mayor of East Greenwich Township, Fred Grant, was charged after being stopped by police.

Check charges

A Bergen County Assemblyman, Robert Schroeder, (R-39), Washington Township, faces charges of his own.

The Attorney General on Friday brought a complaint alleging the business owner passed bad checks to company investors totaling nearly $400,000.

Schroeder, who once ran in a GOP primary for governor, runs a company that makes and sells tents, building components and other products to the military.

The Attorney General said the investigation is ongoing.

Report in Middlesex

The Comptroller issued a report blasting the Middlesex County Improvement Authority for paying four top executives substantial bonuses even though they were not part of any employment agreement.

For example, the executive director, Richard Pucci, got an additional $55,000 in 2010.

The 30 percent bonus, along with a $4,800 car allowance and $3,565 in unused sick time boosted Pucci’s 2010 salary from the authority to $249,366, the Comptroller’s report said.

The governor’s office blasted the extra pay as another example of the so-called “shadow government’’ that it has been criticizing for some time. Weekly Roundup: Week of July 30