Weekly Roundup: Week of Feb. 18

TRENTON – Guns, guns, guns.

Whether they are deadly weapons, or necessary for self-protection, depending on who you ask, they were in the forefront again Thursday, as both supporters and opponents of gun legislation packed the Assembly chambers.

The 22 gun bills that were passed included limiting the number of bullets per magazine, preventing those on terrorist watch lists from gaining access to guns, and banning assault weapons.

Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, (R-21), Westfield, speaking for the Republicans before the votes were held, was quick to slam the Democrats on what he thought was poorly drafted legislation and for trying to create a wedge issue.

In the end, all the bills were passed, generally along party lines.  Now they will have to go through the Senate.

Revel

The signs – and not the glitzy, neon kind – spelled financial trouble for the lavish Revel resort and casino the past several months, and earlier this week, it all came to a head when it announced it was going to seek a prepackaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The move will enable the debt-ridden destination to restructure its load, embrace a more targeted marketing campaign, and enable the lenders to have an ownership stake.

Supporters say such moves are quite common within the casino industry, especially in tepid economies.

But others point to the recent challenges Atlantic City has been facing from out of state gaming parlors that have essentially rewritten all expectations and business approaches.

At least one lawmaker, Ralph Caputo, (D-22), of Belleville, re-emphasized the need to expand gaming outside Atlantic City to appeal to the northern part of the state.

That approach has yet to be embraced by many lawmakers or  the governor.

Post-Sandy rebuilding

The rebuilding phase for Sandy goes on, and attention has turned to ethical standards and oversight regarding entities involved in the rebuilding.

To help maintain a high level of professionalism and efficiency, the Senate State Government Committee released bills that would establish integrity monitors, who would be selected by the state Treasurer, and another bill calling for improved transparency.

Much of the scrutiny comes after a politically connected debris removal company, AshBritt, got some unflattering headlines over the way it was hired to do work in New Jersey.

The governor has defended the process of the piggy-back contract. AshBritt was already doing similar work in Connecticut.

Education

Another hot-button issue made its impact this past week as supporters of traditional public education called for maintaining, if not increasing, the current level of funding.

Many of the urban districts fear big cuts in state aid as the Christie Administration seeks to revise the school funding  formula that would put less weight on the number of students receiving a free or reduced lunch and on the number of bilingual students.

The Joint Committee of Public Schools heard testimony earlier this week from the Education Law Center’s David Sciarra, who praised the Legislature for passing a resolution rejecting the administration’s sought-after changes.

Also, Assembly Democrats publicly expressed their support to fight for more school funding, not less.

Subpeona power

The Assembly Budget Committee passed a resolution, along party lines, that would enable the Budget Committee to subpoena the treasurer and relevant documents.

Democrats, especially committee Chairman Vincent Prieto, (D-32), of Secaucus said the move is needed in order to give them more access to information they need to make decisions when crafting the budget.

Prieto was less than pleased a couple of weeks ago when the Treasurer declined an invitation to appear before the committee.

But Republicans have charged that the information can be sought without having to call Cabinet members in every time, with the underlying purpose of embarrassing the administration.

Democrats, however, denied that, saying their intentions are about getting information they haven’t been able to get.

Also in legislative action this week, the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee released a bill that would require written notification be given to witnesses when someone they testified against is released from jail.

Sen. Donald Norcross described the bills as a “common sense” step.

Revenues

The Treasury Department released monthly revenue figures.  The good news is that in January income and sales taxes rose. Overall for the month, actual revenues were $3.057 billion, better than the budgeted figure of $2.982 billion.

However, for the first seven months of the fiscal year, revenues lagged budget projections by about $350 million.

Weekly Roundup: Week of Feb. 18