Weekly Roundup: Week of March 18

TRENTON – Gay conversion therapy was a major topic the past week, with emotional testimony given by its opponents and Gov. Chris Christie weighing in on the issue, something he rarely does on pending legislation.

Nonetheless, his office issued a statement late Thursday afternoon, saying “Gov. Christie does not believe in conversion therapy. There is no mistaking his point of view on this when you look at his own prior statements where he makes clear that people’s sexual orientation is determined at birth.”

His office issued the statement after gubernatorial candidate Sen. Barbara Buono criticized him, saying he had not spoken out forcefully enough on the matter.

Supporters of a bill sponsored by Sen. Joe Vitale that would do away with the practice by licensed professionals told stories of abuse and brainwashing. But those who opposed the bill, or at least did not fully support it as is, said it does nothing to prevent people who lack professional credentials who may support the therapy. Others said the bill amounts to an infringement on parental rights.

The bill cleared the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Medical marijuana

Medical marijuana advocates called on the state to move faster in fully implementing the program the Legislature set out to create three years ago.

Speaking Thursday at a Statehouse press conference, they said that only one dispensary has been set up, Greenleaf in Montclair, when six around the state were planned. Also, there are too few doctors signed up in the registry, less than one percent, according to some advocates.

The supporters of medical marijuana also called for having other methods of taking the drug besides smoking it, such as creating lozenges.

The Health Department has said it’s working with other applicants for dispensaries, working through the channels, adding that it’s been responsible in its implementation.

Assembly and Senate sessions

The Assembly passed several bills in its Thursday session. Among them were bills that would protect an employee’s personal computer password from employees, putting integrity monitors in place for major rebuilding projects and an internal affairs pilot program regarding the Edison Police Department in which the state would oversee complaints.

Earlier in the week, the Senate passed bills, including Lottery winner anonymity, tougher penalties for dealers and possessors of child porn, and human trafficking.

The human trafficking measure, which also passed in the Assembly, is a sweeping bill aimed at combating one of the most horrific crimes, one that its sponsors feel goes largely ignored in developed countries.

Waiver rule

Looks like the so-called waiver rule needs some work.

The controversial rule hated by environmental groups that allows developers and other applicants to possibly sidestep certain environmental rules for the sake of economic development was decided by the state Appellate Court.

While the court upheld DEP’s authority to have the waiver rules in place, it rejected the DEP’s posting of the documents posted on its website, saying it violates the Administrative Procedures Act, and bypassed the accepted rule-making process.

Environmentalists were disappointed because the bottom line is that the right of the state to grant waivers remained in effect.

Sandy relief

A coalition of several religious and political groups said Wednesday the Sandy relief package doesn’t go far enough in helping minorities and low-income residents who lost plenty in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

But the Department of Community Affairs quickly challenged those claims, saying that thousands of households will be helped. DCA said a $600 million reconstruction program for low- to moderate-income applicants has been included in the package, for example.

Solar energy

A week after it was revealed that the state slipped in overall rankings for solar energy from number two to number three, it was announced this week that New Jersey has surpassed one gigawatt of installed solar energy, generating a total of 1,008.4 megawatts through 20,340  solar projects.

New Jersey is on target to meet or exceed its 22.5 percent renewable energy standard portfolio by 2021, as outlined in the 2011 Energy Master Plan, according to the administration. 

 But where the administration saw sunlight, the Sierra Club saw nothing but dark clouds, claiming the administration’s policies actually stifled the growth of the program, causing the drop in national rankings.

The administration referenced Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula’s bill A2966, which seeks to balance the competing elements of government subsidy and market forces, for helping it reach that goal. Weekly Roundup: Week of March 18