Weekly Roundup: Week of Dec. 17

TRENTON – The final voting sessions this year for the Assembly and the Senate served as bookends for the week.

Bills and resolutions encompassing myriad topics – tax breaks, farmland preservation, a minimum wage hike, even designating a day to honor late E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons – were ushered through in sessions that began with somber recognitions of the massacre at a Connecticut school the previous week.

However, this is New Jersey, and this is politics, so the pre-Christmas good-will-toward-men attitude did not last long.

The Democrat-controlled Senate on Thursday  leapfrogged the nomination of Fredric Knapp to be Morris County prosecutor from the committee stage – where it had been for about seven months or so – and onto the Senate floor for an immediate vote, where the Dems promptly defeated it.

The back story: Knapp already had been doing the job.  Gov. Chris Christie, tired of waiting for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hear the nomination, yanked a Democratic prosecutor from the post and had Knapp appointed acting prosecutor.

The procedural drama occurred amid shouts from Republicans and gavel pounding from the Senate president.

The GOP said the Dems were bypassing the process, and Senate President Steve Sweeney said the governor had bypassed the Legislature.

Impromptu press conferences immediately were set up outside the Senate chambers.

Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. said the Dems were throwing a temper tantrum. Sen. Kevin O’Toole compared the Dems’ tactics to “martial law.’’

Democratic Sen. and Judiciary Chair Nicholas Scutari, however, said that they could not allow the state Constitution to be circumvented by the governor.

This is not the first fight the governor and the Democratic legislators have waged over nominations.

If this is how 2012 is ending, what awaits in 2013 when two state Supreme Court nominees have their hearings, which have not yet been scheduled.

Violence as public health issue

In the wake of the horrific shootings in Connecticut, Sens. Ray Lesniak and Shirley Turner felt something had to be done.

It could just as easily have occurred here.

To help combat the rising tide of violence, the senators introduced a bill that would state such violence constitutes a public health crisis, urge federal gun control measures, and establish in the state a commission to study the epidemic of violence and how to reverse it.

“We want to do everything possible to attack the root causes of violence that is happening way too often in our country,” Lesniak said.

Bills passed

The Assembly passed the proposed constitutional amendment to hike the minimum wage to $8.25.  The Legislative Democrats have said that if Gov. Chris Christie vetoes the bill that would increase the wage to $8.50, then they will pursue the tactic of asking voters to change the Constitution.

Among other bills that cleared the Assembly:

*The angel investor tax credit act.  Republicans spoke out against it because it rewards high net worth investors for doing something that they would have done anyway, while Democrats championed it as part of a package of jobs-related bills.

*Tax credits for businesses on wages paid to interns.  Republicans pointed out this bill was vetoed once before, and likely will be again, and a bipartisan approach to draw up a comprehensive economic plan would be a better idea. Democrats argued this and other jobs-related bills are a bipartisan approach.

*Tax credits for investments in biotech businesses; authorizing internet wagering at Atlantic City casinos; and the so-called Back to Work NJ bill that provides workplace training for unemployed residents.

And the Senate, after the arguments over the prosecutor nomination, passed a series of bills, including:

*The bill requiring that any employer who relocates a call center to a foreign country must notify the state and remit the unamortized value of any grants or loans; the upper chamber version of the internet gaming bill; an expansion of a neighborhood revitalization tax credit; and naming Jan. 11 of each year as Clarence Clemons Day.

Not in the running

Amid all of that legislative hoopla, Newark Mayor Cory Booker officially withdrew himself as a gubernatorial candidate next year.

Attention now focuses on what Senate President Steve Sweeney will do, but he said no decision will be announced until 2013. That means for now that Sen. Barbara Buono is the only announced Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

Meanwhile, Booker said he would explore the possibility of a U.S. Senate bid for Frank Lautenberg’s seat.

Weekly Roundup: Week of Dec. 17