Morning Digest: Oct. 22, 2013

In LD 1 debate, Van Drew and Adelizzi-Schmidt agree more often than not. 

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE – Debates are often an opportunity for candidates to distinguish themselves and explain to voters why they’re the better person for the job.

Debates are also often a time for candidates to disagree, but not so much in Legislative District 1. It was here in South Jersey Monday evening where the Republican challenger and Democratic incumbent agreed on the issues more often than not.

Taxes? There are too many. Jobs? Not enough. Minimum wage? Sure, New Jersey workers need to earn more but the minimum wage ballot referendum wasn’t the way to go about it. Even Gov. Chris Christie seemed to elicit positive responses from both candidates.

Incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeff Van Drew and Republican challenger Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt squared off in Cape May Court House tonight.  (Arco/PolitickerNJ)





At Gloucester college, bipartisanship groundbreaking as election season heats up

SEWELL – Gov. Chris Christie came to this South Jersey college town Monday and shook hands with the man his party is trying to unseat: Senate President Steve Sweeney.

In New Jersey politics, this kind of across-the-aisle photo-op has become something pundits have grown used to seeing.

But this was more personal than political for the state Legislature’s top Democrat. Sweeney’s daughter, Lauren, whose dream of attending college can now become real, benefits – as do countless other students with disabilities – from the $750 million bond issue for new college classrooms that voters passed last November, a project that was a joint mission for Sweeney, Christie and others.

The lawmakers broke ground Monday on a $4 million, 14,000-square-foot addition to Gloucester County College’s Adult Transition Center.  (Mooney/PolitickerNJ)



Same-sex marriage requests met with confusion, frustration in some N.J. towns

Whether the first day of same-sex marriage in North Jersey was a joyous celebration, or a heartbreaking disappointment, depended on location and a sympathetic ear.

In Hawthorne, Jeff Gardner was able to say “I do” Monday to Ari Lash, his partner of 13 years, after he showed the proper paperwork to a Passaic County judge, who waived the state’s 72-hour waiting period for nuptials. Christian Reinhardt and Marijan Por did the same in Bergen County court and tied the knot hours later, as their 8-year-old daughter looked on.

A Bergen County judge dashed the hopes of high school sweethearts Sophie Papanikolaou and Teri Noel, of Fair Lawn, telling them they didn’t meet the legal requirements and had to wait until Thursday to make their 34-year relationship a legal marriage.

“I’m frustrated, I’m furious, I’m hurt,” Papanikolaou said. “We expected a rubber stamp. We’ve been together 34 years. Why would [the judge] give a flying leap?”

Confusion over how New Jersey’s marriage laws apply to gay couples seemed to be the key problem in local communities, as municipal officials and eager couples tried to make sense of it all. As of Thursday, there was no gay marriage in New Jersey. On Friday, suddenly there was, after the state Supreme Court rejected Governor Christie’s request to hold off on allowing same-sex marriages while his administration appealed a lower court ruling. (Baker/The Record)     



New Jersey promoting Teen Driver Safety Week

The state is promoting a driving orientation seminar for teenagers about to get their driver’s license and their parents as part of an awareness campaign during Teen Driver Safety Week.

The effort is geared toward battling the lead killer of young people in New Jersey: From 2008 through last year, 216 17- to 20-year-olds were killed — and more than 113,000 drivers under the age of 20 were injured — on the state’s roadways, according to the Division of Highway Traffic Safety.

“Parents have spent their entire lives trying to protect their kids, but then they hand their teens the keys to a 2-ton machine, and expect them to know what to do,” the division’s acting director, Gary Poedubicky, said in a statement. “We want to remind parents that they still have a lot to teach their teen drivers.”

To that end, the orientation, Share The Keys, is a data-driven tutorial that teaches parents and teenagers with driving permits the laws of the road, how parents can lead by example and enforcing rules such as curfews and passenger limits. The 90-minute seminar was developed by Kean University and the Division of Highway Traffic Safety. For information on how to bring the program to a local school or community, visit (Patberg/The Record)   




State would aid in getting grants to elevate Sandy homes

TOMS RIVER — Democrats who head the Legislature’s environment committees say they expect to act on Sandy recovery-inspired bills by January, including the possibility of the state providing funds to help homeowners front the money needed to draw down federal home-elevation aid.

The Senate and Assembly environment committees held a well-attended and occasionally tense public hearing Monday at Toms River town hall, the fourth in a series to hear from members of the public about the progress and problems with rebuilding after last October’s superstorm. (Symons/Asbury Park Press) 




Seeking religious exemption, some GOP lawmakers may support same-sex marriage veto override

TRENTON — One way or the other, the Legislature might not be done with gay marriage yet.

Though the state Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday compelled Gov. Chris Christie’s administration to drop its appeal, some advocates for same-sex marriage say it still makes sense for the Legislature to override Christie’s 2012 veto to ensure churches that want to be exempt are on solid ground.

Such protection was in the bill Christie vetoed, said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer.

“The Supreme Court did not say anything about it, so if you get some wacky gay couple that’s like, ‘I insist that the Catholic Church marry me’ — you know, it’s America. Anyone could file suit about anything,” Gusciora said. “At least it would be codified it would show that there’s legislative intent that this has nothing to do with religious institutions or forcing them to marry someone they didn’t want to.”

John Tomicki, of the League of American Families, said the protective language in the bill Christie vetoed is “totally and wholly inadequate.”  (Symons/Asbury Park Press) 







Christie and Buono on the environment: The Sounds of Silence

Worries about economy have pushed environmental issues almost entirely off candidates’ agendas

This is the second in a series of articles laying out the critical policy challenges that the next governor and Legislature will face, as well as their positions on these issues.

The state’s open-space preservation program is broke. Electric and gas transmission projects may soon traverse the New Jersey Highlands and the Pine Barrens, forested land previously set aside for protection. Questions abound on where and whether to pull back from the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy along the Jersey Shore.

Not that many years ago, those issues and others likely would have emerged as top concerns and would have been hotly debated in a gubernatorial contest. Not this year: The economy apparently trumps the environment.

In the race between Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic challenger state Sen. Barbara Buono of Middlesex County, the environment rarely has been raised as a topic. Silence prevails, though some say the differences between the two candidates on this issue are as stark as they have ever been in a gubernatorial election. (Johnson/NJSpotlight) 







New Jersey’s Drug Court Program: Making the Sentence Fit the Crime

Initiative sentences nonviolent offenders to treatment, not punishment, but critics question whether it’s cost or good policy driving the program

As U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was unveiling policy changes this summer that would cut the amount of time a nonviolent drug offender spends in federal prison, New Jersey was readying its own initiative to fight drug crime — an expansion of the state’s drug court program, in which drug offenders are sent into treatment rather than jail.

The two initiatives showed that while Democrats and Republicans seem to be world’s apart these days, there’s one thing on which they agree: the war on drugs has been lost.

As Gov. Chris Christie signed the drug court legislation last year, he criticized the draconian drug laws passed in the wake of the crack cocaine epidemic, saying they did nothing more than warehouse people in state prisons.

The legislation made New Jersey’s drug court program eligible to more offenders, like those who have committed second-degree burglary or robbery. The law also made drug court mandatory, for some offenders. A judge can now impose it as a sentence. Until now, it was a voluntary program; defendants had to apply to get in.  (Chesler/NJSpotlight) 







Obama Admits Web Site Flaws on Health Law

WASHINGTON — President Obama offered an impassioned defense of the Affordable Care Act on Monday, acknowledging the technical failures of the Web site, but providing little new information about the problems with the online portal or the efforts by government contractors to fix it.

With Republican critics seizing on the Web site’s issues as evidence of deeper flaws in the health care law, Mr. Obama sought to deflect attention from the continuing problems by focusing on ways to get coverage without going online. Like a TV pitchman, the president urged viewers to call the government’s toll-free number for health insurance, acknowledging that “the wait times probably might go up a little bit now.”

In remarks in the Rose Garden, Mr. Obama acknowledged serious technical issues with the Web site, declaring that “no one is madder than me.” He offered no new information about how many people have managed to enroll since the online exchanges opened on Oct. 1. And he did not address questions about who, if anyone, might be held responsible for the failure.  (Shear/The New York Times) 




Jersey City mayor to sign sick-leave legislation

ERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — Jersey City’s mayor is set to sign legislation requiring small businesses to give employees sick leave.

Mayor Steven Fulop says Jersey City is the first city in the state and only the sixth nationally to enact similar legislation.

The city’s council passed the measure by a 7-1 margin last month. It allows private-sector employees in businesses with 10 or more employees to earn up to five paid sick days a year. Employees of smaller businesses will earn up to five days of unpaid sick time. (Associated Press)   





Investor to Spend $15M on Established Solar Projects in NJ, MD

Energy services company to hedge investments with solar-credit futures, offsetting recent plunge in price

Apparently, not everyone is down on New Jersey’s solar sector.

GP Renewables & Trading, a New York-based energy services company, announced yesterday it expects to spend up to $15 million to buy operating, commercial solar projects in Maryland and New Jersey by the end of the year.

Its entry into the state’s solar market comes at a time when many owners of solar systems are struggling to recoup their investments, a problem caused by the steep drop in prices paid for the electricity their arrays produce. In energy jargon, those payments are known as solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs). (Johnson/NJSpotlight) 






AC Republicans chide Democratic challenger for use of “F” bomb

Atlantic County Republicans are calling on a Democratic freeholder challenger to drop campaign tactics they say have never before been witnessed in county politics.

And the campaign tactics aren’t television or radio ads, they’re road signs.

The Atlantic County Republican Committee issued an open letter to freeholder hopeful Bard Shober demanding that the Democratic challenger and his party put an end to posting signs in the county they describe as “truly over the top and beyond the realm of propriety.”

The statement comes after signs began popping up in the county that, well, drop the “F bomb.” Or, sort of.

The sign that struck a cord with local Republicans reads: “WTF” or, “What This Fixed?”

The letters “WTF” of the words “Want This Fixed?” were in reference to the state’s minimum wage rate. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)



Sweeney: same-sex decision today civil rights victory

SEWELL – Senate President Steve Sweeney reveled this afternoon in what he called the civil rights victory of Gov. Chris Christie ceasing legal opposition to gay marriage in New Jersey.

“I was surprised, I was happy,’’ Sweeney said after a joint appearance with the governor here to break ground on an educational facility for students with disabilities at Gloucester County College.

He acknowledged the Legislature will have to figure out how to deal with unresolved issues involving religious exceptions, but that is for later.  “It’s the law of the land now,’’ he said. “It’s about the majority not telling a minority what to do.”  (Mooney/State Street Wire)








Turner wants vote to scrap special elections

Senator Shirley K. Turner (D-15) said today that she has requested a vote on her legislation, S2857, to eliminate the option of a special election to fill vacancies in the United States Senate. 

“The exorbitant $24+ million cost to taxpayers and historic low voter turnout — 24 percent on October 16th and 9 percent on August 13th — are proof positive that special elections are a boondoggle that must be eliminated,” said Turner, whose bill was released by the Senate State Government Committee on June 17. 

“We need to continue on the path of consolidating elections to save taxpayers the costs of unnecessary elections, increase voter participation, and reduce voter fatigue,” she added.  (PolitickerNJ Staff/State Street Wire)




From the Back Room

Veteran Highman joins consulting firm as senior advisor 

Washington Strategic Consulting (“WSC”) announced today that David Higham has joined the firm as a Senior Advisor.

A former legislative assistant to former U.S. Rep. James Florio, Higham will provide counsel to WSC and its clients on federal health care and higher education policy matters. (PolitickerNJ Staff/PolitickerNJ)









Gardner ties the knot with Lash

Jeff Gardner, chairman of the Hawthorne Democratic Committee, got married today to his longtime partner Ari Lash.

Gardner ran against and defeated state Sen. John Girgenti (D-35) for the chairmanship following Girgenti’s vote against marriage equality. (PolitickerNJ Staff/PolitickerNJ)






NJSDA gets new outside counsel

The national law firm of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC will serve as outside counsel to the New Jersey Schools Development Authority (“NJSDA”) in the areas of construction litigation, professional errors and omissions/cost recovery and real estate, including voluntary acquisitions, condemnations and general transactions. 

The predecessor firm of Sterns & Weinroth had served as outside counsel to NJSDA in these areas continuously since 2002, shortly after NJSDA’s predecessor, New Jersey Schools Construction Corporation, was formed.  PolitickerNJ Staff/PolitickerNJ)








Christie makes it clear he’ll go his own way

If Governor Christie’s goal is to win over the hearts of conservative activists for a possible run for president, he failed Monday.

Staunch social conservatives from Iowa to the Jersey home front lashed out after Christie’s surprise decision to drop his legal challenge to same-sex marriage.

A true social conservative, they argued, would have waged an Alamo-like defense of traditional marriage to the bitter end. No one wanted to hear his explanation that he was fighting a court that had already made up its mind.

“When he backs away from [traditional] marriage and cedes his constitutional authority and the separation of power to an activist court, that sends red flags to everybody,” said Bob Vander Platts, a leading Iowa conservative activist.

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, delivered this judgment: “The mark of a leader is to walk a principled walk no matter the difficulty of the path. Chris Christie has failed the test.” (Stile/  Morning Digest: Oct. 22, 2013