TRENTON – The hot-button and somewhat perennial issue of family planning services, and sufficient funding for clinics providing such services, came up for a vote for a third consecutive budget year.
Passionate speeches were made by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle Thursday in both houses. But the passion failed to convince anybody from the other side to switch positions. Republican lawmakers made the argument that the administration had been sufficiently funding such services through support for what are known as federally qualified health centers.
However, Democrats made the argument that while the services may be provided, they are not as accessible as they would be had all of the family planning clinics remained open. They pointed out that six have been closed thus far.
Democrats and Republicans reached agreement on the framework for a negotiated Fiscal Year 2014 spending plan that provides money for reorganization of the medical school system, funding for public education, and other services.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo, (D-36), of Wood-Ridge, said while he’s not excited about the budget, it does contain items that he believes “protect” the middle class.
The negotiated plan projects a $300 million surplus and reallocates $97.2 million in spending that is offset by $97.2 million in revised spending projections for Medicaid and state health benefits by the administration.
The plan also calls for $35 million for higher education reorganization; $20 million for cancer research grants; $13.2 million for a cost of living adjustment for community providers who care for vulnerable residents and the mentally disabled; $10.3 million for nursing home and specialized care facilities; $7.4 million in school aid and $6 million for tax relief for the Meadowlands communities.
Early voting a no-go
Sen. Nia Gill, (D-35), of Montclair, asked for support from just three Republicans during the Senate session Thursday to help her overturn Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of the early voting legislation she sponsored.
And, unsurprisingly, she failed to garner that modicum of support.
Gill accused the administration of hypocrisy citing the potentially high costs of early voting, Even though just two weeks ago, the governor decided to move forward and hold a special U.S. Senate election for the seat previously held by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, just three weeks before the regular election.
But Sen. Sam Thompson, (R-12), Old Bridge, pointed out that unlike the once-in-a-blue moon special election, early voting, and the costs associated with it, would require funding on a regular basis.
Unions made the plea to scrap the proposed job bands plan being pushed by the Christie Administration. They said among other things that in a state like New Jersey, which already has a lot of corruption, the job bands plan will only create more of it.
Opponents aimed much of their arguments at the idea that an age-old Civil Service protection known as veterans preference will cease to exist if this proposal goes through.
However, Gov. Chris Christie said in a speech last week that veterans absolutely will not be sidelined; rather the intent of the job banding is to reduce bureaucracy.
Landfill and other bills
One of the more controversial bills that was pulled by Senate President Steve Sweeney earlier this season – a bill that would shut down the Fenimore Landfill in Roxbury – finally passed the Senate last week.
However, the bill was heavily amended at the suggestion of Sen. Bob Smith, (D-17), Piscataway, who feared the original bill came across too much as so-called “special legislation.” The amended bill would be more encompassing in taking action against other landfills that also pose a potential health hazard for the public.
Despite Gov. Chris Christie’s objections, the Senate passed a bill that would enable young children to be able to take medical marijuana for certain conditions through a more expedited process than currently exists.
The Senate Education Committee released a series of bills that would require schools to test and find ways to remediate dyslexia or other reading/comprehension problems that are found in students.
Several bills were passed that, among other things, would require students be tested for the condition, adhere to traditional definition of dyslexia and provide training to professionals to recognize the problems.
Sen. Michael Doherty, (R-23), of Oxford, raised an issue of why a separate bill regarding phonics wasn’t included, since weakness in that area is largely the root problem in reading difficulties.
The state jobless rate slipped to 8.6 percent in May, the lowest it’s been in four years. Also, the state added more than 14,000 jobs.
The state Supreme Court turned thumbs down on the effort to prevent Gov. Christie from holding a special election for the U.S. Senate seat. The lower court said Christie was within his rights to schedule a special election three weeks ahead of the general election, and the high court turned aside the opponents’ arguments as well.
The opponents aren’t giving up just yet. A bill that would move the November general election to the date of the October special election advanced in committee this past week.