Weekly Roundup: Week of Oct. 1

TRENTON – Government accountability, foreclosures, a Medicaid waiver, and a health benefits exchange.

Sounds so last session, right? Nope. Just another week in Trenton, with several Senate committees and a full Senate session on board.

An attempt to override Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of the proposed PANYNJ Transparency and Accountability Act, S1761, failed in the Senate on Thursday along party lines, with the Democrats voting in favor of the override and Republicans standing firm in opposition. 

Christie vetoed the bill because he felt it didn’t go far enough. He wanted other government agencies and authorities – or as he calls them, “shadow governments” –  included.

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak was particularly critical of Sen. Robert Gordon, (D-38), of Fair Lawn, who sponsored the bill.

“Senator Gordon’s sudden awakening to the problems of the Port Authority has been absolutely remarkable.  All those years when the problems grew at the Port Authority, he and his Democratic colleagues never made a peep, never lifted a finger,” he said.

Medicaid waiver

The Christie Administration got a victory when the federal government approved its application seeking a comprehensive waiver for Medicaid – the joint state and federal program that provides health insurance to very poor residents.

The waiver will enable the state to shape its health insurance program to meet its service needs, save money and streamline other operations. It wasn’t immediately known how much it will save, but administration officials said such things as long-term care and services for disabled residents will not be compromised.

Other bills

The Jessica Lunsford Act was passed by the Senate. The bill, named after a 9-year-old Florida girl who was sexually assaulted, would increase penalties for such crimes.

The revised version of the health benefits exchange didn’t seem to garner the massive bipartisan support that sponsor Sen. Nia Gill was perhaps hoping for. However, the Senate did pass it on a majority vote, 21-17.

Gill revised the bill after Christie vetoed it in the summer for several reasons, including the proposed compensation of $50,000 for each member of the board of directors. Gill’s amended bill dropped the salary, added two more members to better represent industry, and calls for a report on the exchange’s effectiveness  to be sent to the government.

It remains to be seen if Christie will sign or veto the revised version.

Labor Department complaints

Officials from the Labor Department said they are working to get additional help on the challenging workload the department has faced, given all the unemployment claims it has received since the Great Recession came and went.

During legislative hearings this past week into problems with the backlog of handling jobless benefits, they said the federal government will be sending more workers. But with training taking months, it could be a while before there’s a noticeable reduction.

Lawmakers from the 20th legislative district first made public complaints they had received from constituents about the long wait before having their appeals heard regarding compensation. But even after the Senate Labor Committee testimony, Sen. Ray Lesniak said he still wasn’t convinced the department had a sense of urgency.

Sen. Fred Madden called the labor department’s handling of the situation “substandard.”

Lake Hopatcong

It’s not often that Republicans fall out of line with or have a different opinion than Christie on a particular issue.

Lake Hopatcong in Morris County is in dire need of a clean-up and the lawmaker who represents the district where it is located, Sen. Anthony Bucco, (R-25), of Boonton,  wants $150,000 provided to help clean it up.

However, Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee refused to hear that bill, saying it would go against Christie’s pledge to veto supplemental spending bills unless lawmakers pass a tax cut proposal first.

While Bucco accused the Democrats of playing politics, Christie called the tabling of the bill by Sen. Paul Sarlo, (D-36), of Wood-Ridge, a “good move.”

Foreclosures

A bill to get more government money to the families facing foreclosure, bill S2202, was released this past week by the Senate Budget Committee.

The issue of foreclosure and federal money to help those families facing it was back in the forefront after it came to light that $300 million that was provided by the federal bailout is hardly being used for that purpose.

The state Department of Community Affairs has said it is working on removing the kinks and improving the effectiveness of the program, which has had few participants due to stringent requirements. 

 

 

Weekly Roundup: Week of Oct. 1