Weekly Roundup: Week of Feb. 11

TRENTON – Emotions boiled over on two hot-button topics this past week – gun control legislation and the planned closure of two developmental disabilities centers.

On gun control, the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee called for mental health screenings, improving school safety, stricter gun purchasing laws, and preventing those who are on terrorist watch lists from purchasing guns. The legislative package – more than 20 bills – also called for reducing the number of bullets from 15 per magazine to 10.

Despite much criticism from gun rights supporters, who dismissed the bills as “feel-good” and “lunacy,” all of the bills were released by the committee.

And that was not all. Four more bills were announced late in the week to address other gun violence issues, including increased penalties for offenders.

Developmental Disabilities Centers

In Montclair, several supporters of the current state-run developmental disabilities centers expressed outrage that two of them – North Jersey and Woodbridge developmental centers – are planned for closure.

The supporters argued before a joint legislative committee that their shutdowns, which would take place over a five-year period, would leave a dearth of such centers in North Jersey.

Others said the closure of those centers is political, since the one center that the Department of Human Services had eyed for closure, Vineland Developmental Center, was spared, due to strong lobbying by Sen. Jeff Van Drew, (D-1), who set up a task force that essentially paved the way for Vineland’s saving. 

They added it was unfair to balance the state’s budget on the backs of the state’s most vulnerable citizens, and they said the level of care provided by the center’s potential replacements – community care-style group homes – would not be as comprehensive.

The joint Assembly and Senate health committees argued that while they can’t overrule the administration’s decision, they can make a convincing case to spare them.

Red-light issues

The Assembly Transportation Committee held off on legislation concerning lengthening the yellow light time on the much-maligned red light cameras pilot program after some police officers raised concerns about scrapping a  provision that would eliminate ticketing for drivers who make turns at a red-light intersection without making a complete stop.

Officers also challenged perceptions that the cameras cause accidents at intersection, saying that they are more likely the result of motorists following other cars too closely.

Other bills

The Assembly Women and Children committee released a bill that would appropriate $1 million in “bridge” loans to prevent various domestic violence recovery centers from shutting down, due to inaction from Congress on approving the Violence Against Women’s Act funds.

In addition, the committee, and later the full Assembly, passed a resolution condemning House Republicans for inaction on the legislation approving the funds.

Minimum wage hike

As promised, the Assembly Democrats pursued Plan B regarding the issue of raising the minimum wage, by getting enough votes to post a public question on it.

After Senate Democrats passed a resolution calling for the same thing, the lower house on Thursday followed suit.

Republicans remain opposed to hiking the wage and adjusting it in future years to keep pace with inflation.

But the measure now heads to the November ballot where voters will be asked to weigh in. The constitutional amendment would hike the minimum wage to $8.25.

Lautenberg’s last term

From Washington, the big news – not unexpected – was that U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg would not seek re-election.

The formal announcement set off much speculation about his potential successor.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker made his intention known to seek the office some time ago, but other names tossed about this past week included former R.I. congressman Patrick Kennedy who now lives in New Jersey, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone.

Weekly Roundup: Week of Feb. 11