Dem environmental leaders plan Sandy-related legislation

TRENTON – Superstorm Sandy hammered New Jersey a year ago, reshaping it, and not in a good way.

Sen. Bob Smith wants to remold New Jersey, in a sustainable way.

The lawmaker – who along with Assemblywoman Grace Spencer – oversaw four post-Sandy autopsy hearings around the state that elicited reams of testimony concerning inflexible, unresponsive or poorly trained bureaucrats, said those hearings were not just gripe sessions.

He outlined a roster of legislation that the two Environment committee chairs will spearhead in coming weeks to address Sandy complaints that arose from those hearings.

The reasons for the bills are simple, Smith said.

“We’re making progress with infrastructure, if it’s a road that was destroyed or a bridge that was destroyed,” he said.

“But in terms of meeting the people’s needs, not so much.

“If you get off the main roads if you’re down the Shore, and for that matter North Jersey, too,’’ Smith said, “you will see many, many structures that are just sitting there rotting, and you will find people who are still displaced.’’

The bills he is talking about introducing will require better transparency from the administration, and offer some help to the people who, as Smith said, “have been treated like dogs by the state government.’’

Among the bills he said they are working on sponsoring:

* Set up a $250 million state relief program to allow the state to help people get back on their feet so New Jersey is not so totally reliant on the federal government’s wallet. This would be along the lines of an earlier catastrophic relief effort the state had after Hurricane Floyd in the late 1990s.

* Require that when an agency denies an applicant, it must provide a written reason why, a bill that would be in response to numerous people who told lawmakers they couldn’t get agencies to explain why they were being turned down, and that when they finally did get a reason they discovered it was often an inaccurate one.

* Require that the temporary workers hired by some of these agencies go through a training program, or require the agency to provide proof of having trained them.

* Mandate a coastal land use master plan be drawn up for New Jersey.

* New York state put up a bill that threatened to place FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program under state jurisdiction, an approach that Smith admitted was “tenuous,’’ but he pointed out the existence of the bill led to that state’s insurance department being given some oversight.

“Like Blanche DuBois, we need to have some skin in the game,’’ Smith said.

Whether the state is providing money, or overseeing a regional response, it must become more responsive to residents’ needs and not so reliant on federal assistance.

The bills will take time to work through committee and undergo discussion and changes, Smith said, but the work must get under way.

  Dem environmental leaders plan Sandy-related legislation