Weekly Roundup: Week of Sept. 17

TRENTON – It seems like in each successive week, more and more evidence is unveiled that the Jersey Comeback, if it exists, is a very slow one.

Probably the biggest repudiation this week came from S&P, which on Tuesday said it was downgrading  the state’s credit rating from “stable” to “negative.”

That less than flattering news was coupled with Thursday’s job numbers report from the state Labor Department, which reported that the unemployment rate actually increased despite adding 5,300 jobs.

The administration termed the development, which has been going on for months, as “inexplicable.”

However, Senate President Steve Sweeney termed it as “sad,” adding that it’s time to adopt more job growth policies. He also called for raising the minimum wage, saying it will increase the quality of life for every resident, not just poor people.

The administration fought back, decrying the methodology used in the jobless reporting, and highlighting the fact credit reporting agencies still gave a thumbs-up to New Jersey.

S&P affirmed the state’s AA- credit rating, and so did Moody’s Investor Service and Fitch Ratings, the other major ratings agencies.

Revenues

In other financial news, the Treasury Department reported this week that revenue projections are about 5 percent off earlier estimations.

The Office of Legislative Services said that going forward, the state need revenue growth of 8.2 percent to make up for an estimated $254 million shortfall.

Bills

Workplace and student privacy issues were tackled by the Senate Labor Committee, however business groups bemoaned the proposals.

The bills would prevent workers from being required to hand over passwords for social media accounts.

But business advocates said the measures go too far. The aspect of the bills that give the workers or students an opportunity to sue would result in high legal costs for employers, regardless of whether they committed a violation or not, the business community said. 

A bill that would tighten up what are acceptable exemptions from mandatory student immunizations was approved by the Senate Health Committee by a vote of 6-2.

The bill, S1759, would provide statutory clarification for the state policy that governs exemptions.

A general philosophical or moral objection to the vaccination would not be sufficient to grant an exemption from immunizations, the bill states. It would make it more difficult to cite a religious reason for not getting a child vaccinated. 

As co-sponsor Sen. Joe Vitale, (D-19), Woodbridge, put it.  “While we want to respect people’s religious beliefs and legitimate medical concerns, we cannot allow widespread exemption from immunization based on fear and false science.  Not only does it put the students at risk, but it creates a risk to the general public health and well-being.”

He cited the relatively high number of whooping cough cases as an example of how the lack of sufficient immunizations can create a major public health problem.

 Some parents at the hearing were not convinced.  Numerous opponents to the bill said the state is interfering in a deeply personal and private matter, and has no business inquiring into the validity of a religious exemption claim.

Energy issues were once again under the Statehouse limelight. Bill S1561 would exempt from the sales tax the materials used in the manufacturing of wind energy components. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jim Whelan, (D-2), Atlantic City, would help the boat-building industry make the transition to building turbines and other wind energy parts.

Fracking

Environmentalists released a new report, “The Costs of Fracking,’’ which cited the high costs of plugging and reclaiming a well site, among other expenses.

It showed how the procedure could cause property values in surrounding areas to plummet, as the report stated was the case in states like Texas and Colorado.

Ultimately, though, Gov. Chris Christie wasn’t swayed, as he issued an absolute veto of the fracking wastewater ban bill, A575, on Friday.

“[B]ecause the purpose and plain effect of Assembly Bill No. 575 is to economically isolate New Jersey by placing an embargo on out-of-state commerce in violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause, I herewith return Assembly Bill No. 575 without my approval,” Christie wrote.

Christie took action on several other bills as the week drew to a close. Among the ones that were approved were bills helping microbreweries (A1277), extending permits (A1338), and  requiring defibrillators.

Among those getting a thumbs down were a “Good Samaritan Law” connected to drug overdoses (A578), a bill requiring monthly revenue reporting (A2885), and some bills that were part of a pay equity package.

Weekly Roundup: Week of Sept. 17