Higher Ed Comm.: Bills involving campus officer immunity, student loan forgiveness pass

TRENTON – The Senate Higher Education Committee released a bill that offers immunity to private colleges and their police officers in certain cases.

S2344 affords immunity from civil liability to police officers appointed by private, nonprofit institutions for any damages directly relating to the lawful exercise of their authorized police powers. It advanced 3-0.

The bill also provides immunity to the college.

Sponsor Sen. Christopher Bateman said this is important to Princeton University.

Paul Ominsky, executive director of Public Safety at Princeton, said the 30 personnel are considered to be full-fledged police officers and receive the same training.

In the wake of a combined Princeton borough and township, the campus officers are taking on more responsibility to respond to calls on-campus and are more involved with the county prosecutor’s office, he told the panel.

Angelo Onofri of the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office said they were “shocked’’ to discover the campus officers lacked the same protections other municipal police have.

They are also subject to the same directives and guidelines of municipal officers.

Sen. Nellie Pou questioned whether the lack of immunity has hindered their effectiveness so far, and Ominsky said it hasn’t so far, but this book is looking forward to future concerns with a consolidated Princeton.

Scott Leonard, of the N.J. Association for Justice, in opposition, called the bill vague, and said their organization is concerned any time immunity is being considered.

The panel released other bills:

S2225:  Directs Higher Education Student Assistance Authority to forgive certain student loans in the event of the borrower’s death. It passed 4-0.

The OLS estimates that the bill will result in increased costs to the state of $2.57 million in the first year, $3.06 million in the second year, and $3.64 million in the third year.  However, the OLS notes that the fiscal impact will vary depending on the actual number of deaths of borrowers and the amount of their outstanding NJCLASS loans.

Sen. Paul Sarlo raised one concern, if an estate is large enough and has provisions for paying other debts, why can’t it pay off the student loan as well? “I don’t mean to be mean-spirited,’’ he said, but he and others on the committee acknowledged the policy issue needs to be dealt with.

Sarlo said he won’t plan on posting it in the Budget Committee, which he chairs, until the issue can be worked through with sponsor Sen. James Beach.

S2448: This bill, known as the “Higher Education Epinephrine Emergency Treatment Act,” allows public and independent colleges to develop a policy for the emergency administration of epinephrine to a member of the campus community for anaphylaxis when a medical professional is not available.  It passed 4-0.

S2579: Allows gross income tax deductions for contributions by taxpayers to the New Jersey Better Educational Savings Trust (NJBEST) Program and provides a state match for contributions to NJBEST accounts for families meeting certain income guidelines. The bill advanced 4-0.

This bill allows a gross income tax deduction for taxpayers with gross incomes of not more than $500,000.  The bill allows a gross income tax deduction of up to $10,000 annually for married couples filing jointly, or $5,000 annually for other taxpayers, for contributions to one or more NJBEST accounts.

Sponsor Sen. Nellie Pou said as written the bill allows a student to apply to attend an out-of-state school, which Sen. Thomas Kean Jr. said he did have a concern with. Higher Ed Comm.: Bills involving campus officer immunity, student loan forgiveness pass