TRENTON – Several controversial bills focusing on landfill closings, gay conversion therapies, medical marijuana law changes and Medicaid expansion made it through the Legislature in the recent voting sessions and will be sitting on Gov. Chris Christie’s desk for him to sign or veto.
All the bills elicited emotional reaction and some amendments, but they made it through the legislative process and now will have their fate determined in the Executive Branch.
The legislation that would make it easier to shut down landfills posing a public hazard, inspired by the problems involving Fenimore Landfill in Roxbury, made it out of both houses.
Republican lawmakers were eager to have the bill released from the Environment Committee, but Sen. Bob Smith (D-17) held off on the original version, saying it was too vague and only targeted one facility, making it come across as special legislation.
The revised bill, S2861, was more encompassing. Among other things, Smith’s bill would:
* require the Department of Environmental Protection to properly close legacy landfills if the administrative consent order – a legal document between the DEP and one or more outside parties to formalize specific responsibilities for a site – is void.
*require the landfill to apply for site plan approval from a local land use board if a site accepts new waste.
*establish a maximum air quality standard for hydrogen sulfide and enable residents and others to seek an injunction if a violation of air quality standards occurs at or within two miles of the landfill’s property boundary. The bill requires the court to ensure the violators to remedy the situation.
*require landfill owners that accept waste material to establish and maintain financial assurance in an amount necessary to pay for the closure costs and to provide funds for damages and claims necessary as well as hire an engineer to oversee the closure or remediation process of the facility.
The bill was approved by the General Assembly with a vote of 77-0-1. It was approved unanimously in the Senate last week. It now heads to the Governor’s desk.
This bill, S2842, would amend the state’s medical marijuana law to enable children patients to have easier access to medical marijuana in order to treat severe illnesses.
S2842 was inspired by a Union County couple’s frustration at trying to obtain medical marijuana for their young daughter who suffers from a rare form of epilepsy. Marijuana has been helpful in preventing most seizures, lawmakers were told during hearings.
The bill has largely been voted along party lines in the Senate, but it has enjoyed slightly more bipartisan support in the Assembly. Christie said last month a “slippery slope” could be created by allowing greater access to medical marijuana by children, saying it could lead to more widespread use and be difficult to control.
Gay conversion therapy
The emotional issue of outlawing a technique known as “conversion therapy” for people who are gay has passed both houses.
Specifically, the bill, A3371, would prohibit counseling by licensed or certified professionals to change the sexual orientation of a minor. The bill would apply to practicing psychologists, certified social workers, licensed clinical social workers, licensed marriage and family therapists, certified psychoanalysts, or a person who performs counseling as part of their professional training.
Republican lawmakers expressed concern that the bill does not do anything to target individuals who are not licensed but may actually practice the technique. Other groups have said the bill could stifle parents’ rights in deciding what’s best for their children.
The bill passed the Assembly with some bipartisan support, 56-14, with seven abstentions. After initially saying he was “of two minds” Christie has said he is against the practice of gay conversion therapy.
The Assembly and Senate have passed bills to expand Medicaid.
Christie said in his budget address in February that he intended to expand Medicaid, although he is not a fan of the Affordable Care Act, of which Medicaid expansion is a main component.
Specifically, the bill A4233, would increase the Medicaid income eligibility limit to 133 percent of the federal poverty level for non-senior citizen adults and legal residents starting Jan. 1, 2014.
In 2013 dollars, 133 percent of the FPL is $15,282 for a single person, $20,628 for a family of two, and $31,322 for a family of four.
While Christie has called for expanding Medicaid, his own party doesn’t seem as excited. On this particular bill, the vote fell along party lines. The bill was approved by the General Assembly with a vote of 46-32-0. Last week the Senate approved its sister bill, S2644, by a 26-12 vote.