TRENTON – Sen. Jim Holzapfel and Assemblymen David Wolfe and Greg McGuckin, all legislators from the 10th legislative district, introduced a package of bills today designed to better prepare the state and protect residents during future state of emergency declarations and prolonged power outages.
The 10th Legislative District lawmakers represent many of the hardest hit areas from Superstorm Sandy and the nor’easter which followed 10 days later. The three measures will protect food supplies, help prevent power outages and increase penalties for looting.
The first bill requires newly-constructed grocery stores, including supermarkets and convenience stores, to be equipped with automatic standby emergency power generators.
“As we’ve seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, access to food and other basic necessities was greatly compromised due to widespread and lengthy power outages,” Holzapfel said. “Having this measure in place will help ensure the public has ready access to food and other basic necessities during emergency situations.”
The second bill requires utilities to locate electric distribution lines underground in areas affected by severe weather or natural disasters.
“Sandy and the snowstorm that followed caused unprecedented damage to New Jersey’s electrical system,” explained Wolfe. “In our district, which includes the barrier islands, we still have some residents without power. Such prolonged outages are more than an inconvenience. In many cases, they can be life threatening. They affect everything from the delivery of medical services to access to food and gasoline for our vehicles and generators. Installing power lines underground is a common sense solution to preventing future long-term power outages due to damaging winds, heavy snow and flooding.”
The third piece of legislation establishes additional mandatory penalties for looting during a state of emergency. The bill calls for a mandatory six month prison term or six months of community service, as determined by the court, if a person commits burglary, robbery or theft during an emergency. The mandatory penalties would be in addition to penalties currently imposed for the same crimes.
“Disasters bring out the best in people as we’ve seen with the outpouring of help from so many – locally, regionally and from around the country. Unfortunately, it also brings out the worst in a few who have tried to take advantage of people at their most vulnerable time,” said McGuckin. “Looting is a reprehensible act and those who would rob and steal from people whose homes and businesses have been devastated need to know they will be severely punished.”
Holzapfel, Wolfe and McGuckin noted they requested the package of legislation in the days after the storm, however, immediately following the disaster they focused their time and attention in helping restore power to their constituents and getting people back onto the barrier islands so they can assess damage to their property and homes.
The three legislators are also calling for legislative leaders to post for an immediate vote legislation they have sponsored and introduced in both Houses that ensures operation of certain motor fuel storage, distribution and dispensing facilities during disasters and emergencies.
The current bill, S-210/A-400, was first introduced by Holzapfel in 2006.
“I have been trying for years to move this bill through committee, but was always told, ‘This isn’t Florida.’ Well, guess what? We’re now Florida,” said Holzapfel. “New Jersey was left virtually paralyzed by Superstorm Sandy. The governor had no choice but to impose gas rationing because so much of the state was left without power and the means to pump gas.
“The state must have the ability to access gasoline for government, medical, critical infrastructure personnel and other emergency responders as well as the general public during a declared state of emergency,” he continued. “I urge our legislative colleagues to move this bill through the legislative process as quickly as possible to ensure the safety and protection of all affected.”