Weekly Roundup: Week of Feb. 4

TRENTON – As promised, Democrats went forward with their plan to post a public question asking voters to hike the minimum wage to $8.25, one week after Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have raised it to $8.50.

As predicted, the vote in the Senate fell along party lines. The Assembly, which holds a session Thursday, is scheduled to take the next step and vote once more on the planned ballot question.

Right to die

Assemblyman John Burzichelli’s controversial “Death with Dignity” bill was released by the Assembly Health Committee Thursday.

Supporters of the bill said it’s important for individuals with a terminal illness to have this option to end their life in a way that is as painless as possible. The bill would allow dying patients to self-administer life-ending drugs.

However, opponents said the way the bill is written, especially the aspect in which a person would need to have a determined life expectancy of just 6 months to qualify for the medication, is too short a time to determine if death is inevitable.

They also said that in the event this bill becomes law then in medical reports detailing such a death, they believe that the actual drug taken – not the terminal illness –  should be listed as the cause of death.

Judicial hearings

The good news is that the Judiciary Committee has conducted hearings on various judicial appointments by Gov. Chris Christie, who’s been critical of the committee in recent weeks for its slow pace.

The not-so-good news is that none of the appointments involved the state Supreme Court. In at least two press conferences, Christie placed the blame on Senate President Steve Sweeney for holding up the hearings. The governor has called Sweeney “obstructer in chief” and called his inaction “an act of cowardice.”

But Sweeney insisted he is not going to rush the process.

Internet gaming

To the surprise of some, Christie conditionally vetoed Sen. Ray Lesniak’s (D-20) Internet gaming legislation. Internet gaming has been one of the many alternatives brought up lawmakers as a way to inject some life in the gaming community.

But some backers saw reason for hope. In his CV message, Christie proposed increasing the tax on gross revenues from a proposed 10 percent to 15 percent.

Other things he suggested include requiring lawmakers to disclose past or current representation of entities holding or seeking internet gaming licenses.

In addition, Christie suggested increased funding for prevention and treatment of gambling addiction to prevent “a new generation of addicted gamers, sitting in their homes using laptops or iPads, gambling away their salaries and their futures.”

Lesniak said there’d be little difficulty conforming to Christie’s suggestions.

No-bid contracts?

The controversy continued over a contract the Christie Administration awarded to the politically connected, Florida-based AshBritt debris removal company that was not, according to critics, competitively bid.

The governor lashed out at the Star-Ledger, which broke the story with investigative reports on the subject. Christie dismissed the reporting as “shoddy, crappy journalism.” However, that didn’t stop the Democrats from taking action with Senate President Steve Sweeney calling for the Legislature to review the matter and Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Vincent Prieto, (D-32), of Secaucus, calling for subpoenas to be issued for Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff.   

Then on Friday Christie issued an executive order establishing oversight measures involving the Comptroller’s office for Sandy rebuilding. Christie said, though, that the controversy over AshBritt had nothing to do with issuing the executive order, and that his administration always planned to do this.

Post-Sandy

Christie visited several Jersey Shore towns as part of reassuring residents and communities that the Post-Sandy relief is real. Insurance companies in the state are doing a good job closing on insurance claims made by residents on property damage, he said. But it’s the federal flood insurance program that needs to quit dragging its proverbial feet, with Christie calling it a “disgrace.”

Jughandles

Jughandles would be banned from new construction plans if one assemblyman, James Holzapfel, has his way. While a bill was released out of the Senate Transportation Committee that would do just that, transportation officials have said they are an accepted design commonly used in traffic engineering. So, they’re likely to remain unless the bill gets signed into law. 

Weekly Roundup: Week of Feb. 4