TRENTON – As the year winds down, several committees conducted business the past week, taking up various issues. Among them:
*The Senate Judiciary Committee advancing the appointment of Ken Kobylowski as the permanent commissioner of the Department of Banking and Insurance. He was told that the full Senate would probably vote on his nomination Thursday.
*The Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee releasing bills that would hike penalties significantly for driving while using a cell phone and driving in the passing lane for an extended period of time.
*The Assembly Human Services Committee released the Bill of Rights for Parents of Persons with Developmental Disabilities. The document would, among other things, decree that persons with disabilities be treated with consideration and respect, receive certain information in writing, be given clear information on the parent’s status with the service system and be permitted to have meaningful participation, according to the bill.
*A bill to prevent human trafficking was released from the Senate Judiciary. The panel was told the bill is especially timely because the 2014 Super Bowl, being played in New Jersey, will draw traffickers.
*The Assembly Commerce Committee released a bill that prevents unscrupulous practices by debt buyers in order to prevent victimization.
*In hopes of getting their many economic growth and job creation agenda on track, the Assembly Budget Committee passed a series of bills under the Back to Work New Jersey umbrella. The question now is whether the governor will sign them after the full Legislature passes them, or veto them like he did with a similar set of bills last year.
Gov. Chris Christie went before the New Jersey Business and Industry Association (NJBIA), saying he told President Obama a grant program needs to be put in place to help businesses reopen more quickly in the wake of the super storm Sandy.
As a result of that conversation, Christie said, some $2 billion was included in the $60-billion-plus request the president made to Congress for rebuilding efforts in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
Hat in the ring
Earlier this week, State Sen. Barbara Buono, (D-18), Metuchen became the first Democrat to announce her candidacy for governor, as other Democrats, some probably more well-known, remain coy about whether they will throw their proverbial hat into the race.
Task Force Report
A task force said Thursday that New Jersey remains in dire financial straits. More needs to be contributed toward the pension system to prevent it from going broke. The group also recommended multi-year budgeting.
The report said the state’s taxation system is chaotic and can’t sustain money-draining programs such as education at its current rate.
Local Finance Board
The Local Finance Board green-lighted an application for $10.5 million in Redevelopment Area Bonds involving Panasonic’s relocation from Secaucus to Newark.
The project has drawn some criticism since it was announced in the spring of 2011. The electronics company plans to set up shop near Penn Station-Newark. The company says that the move will help prevent it from going out of state, and help retain 800 jobs. The company has said it also plans to create 200 new jobs.
As expected, in the aftermath of the biggest storm in state history, the casino industry took a big hit, with revenues in November down 28 percent compared to November 2011.
The casinos are now fully functioning and the good news is the Atlantic City Boardwalk did not suffer any structural damage; thus, the slowdown in business should be short lived.
NJ Transit Executive Director Jim Weinstein said some $400 million in transportation infrastructure damage was incurred by the super storm Sandy, with $100 million in damage to rail equipment and some $300 million to track wires, signaling, electrical substations and other equipment.
But Weinstein said that’s just the repair part. He said some $800 million is “necessary to make our transit system more resilient in the face of future storms like Sandy.”
Weinstein said the storm, as devastating as it was, was also a learning experience.
“We are informed now,” he said. “We now know that under circumstances like Sandy that that is going to flood. So, we have to come up with better ideas.”