Despite Democratic concerns, renaissance school project bill advances

TRENTON – A bill that would set up an educational alternative in some urban districts passed with bipartisan backing despite some strong Democratic reservations in the Senate Budget Committee.

S2821 makes changes to the “Urban Hope Act,” involving so-called Renaissance School Projects in Camden, Newark, and Trenton.

This bill, among other things, would eliminate the requirement that a renaissance school project must be in a common campus setting, instead permitting the schools to be in an urban campus area, which is a two-mile radius.

The lottery for student selection would no longer be restricted to public school students in the affected district.

It was released with Democratic Sens. Brian Stack, Sandra Cunningham, Teresa Ruiz, Paul Sarlo, and Loretta Weinberg abstaining.

The abstaining senators all said they were concerned about taking dollars away from public education and said there is a fine line when sending public money to private schools.

“Let’s do everything we can to make public schools work,’’ Cunningham said and added that public schools need financial support.

The five Republican senators along with Democratic Sens. Linda Greenstein, Nellie Pou and Jeff Van Drew supported the bill.

The bill allows Trenton, Newark and Camden schools to work with non-profits on educational opportunities.

When it was discussed earlier in the Assembly Budget Committee, the organization Save Our Schools opposed the bill, especially regarding the ability to issue bonds without sufficient public input.

But new amendments indicated that bonds in some projects would be subject to voter approval, the committee was told by the Office of Legislative Services.

For so-called Type I districts, the board of governors would have authority over the bonds

S79/A495: This bill sets forth penalties for killing or maiming an animal used by a law enforcement agency. It will increase offenses to third-degree crimes.

A fourth-degree crime is punishable by up to 18 months imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.  A third-degree crime is punishable by three to five years imprisonment, a fine of up to $15,000, or both. 

It passed unanimously.

S2576/A3061: Exempts certain persons from the heating, ventilation and air conditioning licensing requirement. The bill passed with seven yes votes.

This bill provides that a person who performs heating, ventilating, air conditioning, and refrigeration work is exempt from the requirement of professional licensure if the person is working for an employer as an employee and that work is being performed in select locations that are owned or operated by the employer.

The original, narrower bill had industry and Republican support, but the amended, expanded version was opposed. The Democrats supported the amended version, with Sen. Jeff Van Drew abstaining for now. 

S2588/A3598: This bill establishes a conditional dismissal program in municipal court similar to the existing supervisory treatment programs for pre-trial intervention and conditional discharge.

It passed unanimously.

S2673/A3878: Requires Commissioner of Banking and Insurance to establish a public awareness campaign about the new federally required health insurance exchange. It passed along party lines.

Despite Democratic concerns, renaissance school project bill advances