Weekly Roundup: Week of May 6

TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie and former Gov. James McGreevey sure make an odd and unlikely duo. But both share a passion in wanting to rehabilitate people with drug and substance abuse problems, giving those people a second chance at living purposeful, productive lives.

The two were at the Hudson County Correctional Center this past week, where Christie got to see firsthand the work McGreevey does as a prison minister for some 40 female inmates. The ceremony helped push support for Christie’s goal of having drug courts set up in all 21 counties.

If anything, the inmates were grateful for the support from the governors past and present.

Privatization

In what might soon be another win for privatization, the head of the division of Motor Vehicles testified Tuesday that MVC is waiting for recommendations from a consultant on best practices in other states, and one of those could very well be outsourcing the vehicle inspections to private garages.

Currently, New Jersey has a hybrid model that enables customers to choose whether they want to have their car inspected at a private garage or at one of the state facilities.

But Democratic lawmakers on the Budget Committee expressed concern that it may not save the state a whole lot of money, and it would put low-income drivers at a disadvantage since they often are the ones driving older cards that would likely have to get inspected. And Bonnie Watson Coleman cited the possibility as another example of the administration wanting to fix something that is not broken.

Guns

The gun buyback program has been a resounding success. The state Attorney General’s office announced this past week it has collected more than 10,000 guns of various shapes and sizes from several towns.  

Also, new gun-control legislation cleared the Senate Budget Committee.

They include:  

A3659/S2178 –  A bill that would revise the definition of weapons, specifically “destructive devices,’’ to include guns of 50-caliber or greater.

A3668/S2471 –   An amended bill prohibiting New Jersey from investing any assets of any pension or annuity fund in companies that manufacture firearms for civilian use;  

A3717/S2492: A bill requiring submission of mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. This passed in the Assembly.

S2715: A bill requiring the Education Department to prepare and distribute informational pamphlets on how parents can limit a child’s exposure to media violence. It passed unanimously.

A key bill produced the most debate.

S2723/A3772 would create permits that would last up to four years, but would include instant background checks at the point of purchase that could lead to revocation of a permit.

DCA matters

Like last year, Democrats criticized the state’s raiding of affordable housing fees collected by municipalities to help balance its budget, saying the diversion hurts construction of low-income and middle-income housing.

Not so, said Commissioner Richard Constable of the Department of Community Affairs. Instead of just having the money sitting around in municipal coffers, he said the money will go toward housing programs, including ones to help the homeless.  

The other issue they confronted the commissioner with was claims that property tax growth has been under control under Gov. Christie, when in fact they have risen by some 20 percent over three years. But Republicans pointed out the property taxes increased some 70 percent when Democrats were in power, and the Grand Old Party helped stabilize the growth with their policies.

Vetoes

The governor took his veto pen to several bills, including ones dealing with early voting, EMS funding, computer passwords for social media accounts, and anonymity for Lottery winners.

One of the major ones was the physician workforce data bill, S1336/A2905, which he conditionally vetoed. The bill would have required physicians to complete a survey developed by the Department of Health, in collaboration with the State Board of Medical Examiners, as a condition of retaining their license to practice in New Jersey.

While it may have been well intentioned, Christie saw otherwise. 

“Unfortunately, this bill would saddle our physicians with a new regulatory burden that could divert their attention away from the care of our families and neighbors,” Christie said in his veto message. “Instead, a more prudent approach is to allow for elective participation in the survey.”

And his veto of the early-voting bill drew a great deal of criticism from Democratic sponsors and Christie’s presumptive gubernatorial opponent Buono.

Supporters saw the bill as critical especially in light of  how Sandy disrupted government functions, but opponents have called the bill unnecessary and expensive to implement.

Weekly Roundup: Week of May 6