Post-Sandy: A litany of legislative responses

TRENTON – After the floods and high wind of Superstorm Sandy last year came the deluge of bills being introduced in the Statehouse to deal with the aftermath.

Some are law, some languished, some are in the pipeline, and there are more on the way.

The chairs of the Environment committees – Sen. Bob Smith and Assemblywoman Grace Spencer – intend to shepherd new bills through the Legislature in the coming months to address concerns in the aftermath of Sandy.

There already are a number of bills by various sponsors in the pipeline at various stages of work. Here is a rundown of just some of the proposals.

These bills have become law:

S2363: This requires home improvement contractors to clearly display state-issued ID badges.

The purpose is to help cut down on potential scams involving Sandy victims.

A3890/S2598: This bill provides a person with a limited exemption from local land use restrictions when raising a structure to meet a new flood elevation level set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

This exception would not be available for new construction.

This bill became particularly noteworthy in a post-Sandy environment when homeowners were pitted between the rock of local zoning regulations and the hard place of environmental disasters.

Without such an exemption, homeowners could be facing an additional $5,000 to $10,000 in costs by having to appear before zoning boards, Smith said.

These bills were introduced last year or early this year and have not received hearings in committee yet.

A3065 – Provides sales and use tax rebates for purchases made by individuals and small businesses affected by Superstorm Sandy. 

Among other things, the bill would help in purchases of carpeting, flooring, and construction equipment.

A3522 – This would permit a gross income tax deduction for charitable contributions – capped at $10,000 – made for Hurricane Sandy relief. 

A3566/S2398 – Allows voluntary contributions through gross income tax returns to support Sandy victims.

Contributions would be appropriated to the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organization.

A3584 – Suspends temporarily penalties and interest for late payment of state taxes by disrupted businesses. 

S2388/A3705 – Provides a corporation business tax or gross income tax credit to small businesses reinvesting in shore municipalities.

These bills are in various committee stages.

S2529: This one would constitutionally dedicate $200 million a year in sales taxes for the next 30 years to fund open space acquisition, a key element of which includes acquiring flood-prone areas.

The $300 million in property acquisition money available is not nearly enough, said Smith. “We need to move people out of harm’s way. You need a constant, steady program.’’

S2599/A3889: This bill would adjust the Eminent Domain Act so that when an easement is being acquired to allow for dune construction the increased value of the property must be factored in.

Applicable elements would include increased safety as a result of the dune work. Also, any reduced value must be considered as a result of condemnation.

A particularly sensitive bill, especially in light of a state Supreme Court decision earlier this year that went against homeowners in a dune compensation dispute matter, this bill has been through the committee stage in the Senate but awaits a hearing in the Assembly.

S2600/A3892: This bill deals with how shore protection projects are funded.

Funding must be consistent with a priority system set up by the Legislature and the bill directs the Department of Environmental Protection to adopt such a system.

The bill requires DEP to conduct a cost-benefit analysis for each project on the shore protection project priority list and demonstrate that it provides a net financial benefit to the state. 

It has worked its way through committees with amendments, in particular one that says priority would be given to projects that provide new public access to the waterfront or improving existing access.

S2601/A3891: This bill would allow the counties of Atlantic, Monmouth, Ocean, and Cape May to assume responsibility for maintenance of the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean on their borders.

This would grant those counties exceptions to the cap on tax hikes.

Counties might choose such local control in order to have uniform beach fees, for instance, and they could operate as a public utility for bond purposes.

This was amended in the Senate so that a local town’s ordinance for beach control would have preference over a countywide ordinance. Smith said this one, which addresses the problem of having so many “fiefdoms’’ locally, is probably ready to be posted for a full Senate vote, which next meets on Nov. 25.

S2602/A3893: This would repeal the law providing exceptions to permit requirements regarding dune work. DEP can issue emergency permits if it determines there is a threat to lives or property if emergency work isn’t done.

SR100/AR152: This urges the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA to conduct an assessment of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy and to provide an analysis of measures to prevent similar damage in the future.

These bills had aspects that made them Sandy related.

S2425/A3679 – Not a Sandy bill per se, it was timely in light of the massive amount of work that the state needed in order to rebuild.

The bill expanded project labor agreement eligibility to include work on such items as roads, treatment plants, or pumping stations.

Although supporters touted it as a way to resolve or avoid workplace labor disputes in advance, opponents warned it would actually increase costs, an undesirable side effect in a sluggish post-Sandy economy.

The bill drew an absolute veto.

S2680/A3933 – Another bill that gained importance in light of Sandy’s destruction.

This would have allowed development on urban piers outside Atlantic City, areas considered high-hazard zones.

Supporters said it would be perfectly safe, but opponents called it mind-boggling to allow construction on piers in light of what the state had just undergone.

Gov. Chris Christie, saying it could jeopardize eligibility in the National Flood Insurance Program, vetoed it outright.

  Post-Sandy: A litany of legislative responses