TRENTON – Monday’s Senate session – which began about 9 a.m. and ended about 7 p.m. – had a surreal air about it.
Senate Democrats were seeking a super majority of 24 yes votes out of 40 senators so that an environmental initiative – a constitutional amendment – could make it onto November’s ballot.
But on this day, several Republicans who had voted yes on an earlier version of the resolution in June would switch their votes to no, much of the day would see sponsor Sen. Bob Smith sitting alone in the nearly empty upper chamber working the phones for votes, lone lawmakers would wander in one by one to cast their votes, and when the board was closed in the early evening two votes short of the needed total, Senate leaders would blame … the Assembly?
That’s the kind of weird day it was in the middle of a summer election-season legislative recess.
Oh by the way, in the end, the bill actually passed with a simple majority. That is not enough to get it on this year’s ballot, but if keeps it on track to appear on next year’s ballot.
Of the 22 yes votes that were cast only two were from the GOP. One was from co-sponsor Sen. Christopher Bateman. The other was from Sen. Diane Allen.
However, eight other Republican senators switched their votes. Had just two of them not switched, the Democrats would have reached the 24 they needed.
The Senate leadership said Monday evening that two Democratic senators who were out of state were prepared to return and vote yes.
But according to Smith, the Senate decided it was not worth it to bring them back to vote because the Assembly wasn’t going to post it for a vote anyway.
The Assembly leadership disputed that strongly.
Assembly Democrats’ spokesman Tom Hester said that had the Senate achieved 24 votes then the Assembly absolutely would have scheduled a session for Thursday.
Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald seconded that. He said the Assembly was committed to holding a session, but he added he had been honest with the senators that they could probably count on only 41 or 42 votes from Assembly Democrats when 48 would have been needed.
However, if the Assembly votes on the measure later this year, and if it again passes in both chambers next year if still could appear on that year’s ballot.
The resolution would ask voters to approve dedicating $200 million a year from FY 15 through FY 44 toward open space preservation. The money would come from sales tax revenue. Its backers say it has added urgency nowadays because of the need to acquire flood-prone properties at risk from future major storms.
But even environmentalists are not in agreement that this is the way to go.
Children in need
One of the more emotional pieces of legislation being considered in recent years awaits a gubernatorial signature or veto.
The bill, S2842, would make it easier for parents to obtain medical marijuana for children. It would loosen restrictions on obtaining physicians’ approval and make it easier to acquire the particular strain of marijuana needed to relieve minors’ suffering.
But the governor has in the past made it clear he has reservations about medical marijuana programs in general, pointing to abuses in programs in Colorado.
However, to make their case, parents of children with severe conditions that can be relieved by medical marijuana came to the Statehouse Thursday and delivered letters to the governor’s office imploring him to sign the bill.
One father, Brian Wilson, brought his 2-year-old daughter Vivian with him to illustrate the severity of the problem. She suffers from a rare form of epilepsy whose violent and life-threatening seizures are not treatable through traditional means.
Another parent brought her 13-year-old daughter whose seizures can’t otherwise be controlled.
They emphasized that the type of medical marijuana they seek access to would not produce the familiar “high’’ associated with the drug, but instead would be strong in one particular active ingredient that is good for the brain and would control the seizures.
The Comptroller issued two reports this week.
In one, the office said towns need to do a better job of monitoring tax-exempt properties. The report the Comptroller did studied just three towns but found examples of lax oversight and properties that should be paying taxes but weren’t.
In the second report, the Comptroller said health care agencies are not adequately pursuing cases of suspected Medicaid fraud. Instead, agencies are recovering fractions of misspent dollars.
The courts turned back an attempt by Senate President Steve Sweeney to have a gubernatorial appointee to the Rutgers Board of Governors removed.
Sweeney had wanted to block Gov. Chris Christie’s appointment of Martin Perez on the grounds that his appointment would have violated a Camden County residency requirement.
The governor’s office said it was confident the courts would find that Perez’ appointment was in compliance with the Restructuring Act of higher-education institutions.