Morning Digest: Dec. 19, 2013

push continues for paid sick leave bill in Newark

NEWARK – Local workers, labor advocates, small business owners and several City Council members rallied at Newark City Hall on Wednesday to show support for the passage of a paid sick leave ordinance in New Jersey’s largest city.

“This piece of legislation will impact and benefit more than 38,000 residents in our city that currently work and do not have the benefit of having paid sick leave,” said North Ward Councilman and mayoral candidate Anibal Ramos, Jr., who is sponsoring the Newark bill. “A healthy employee is a productive employee, and we all agree that this is something that is not going to hurt, but will help, the business community here.”

The proposed ordinance would allow full- and part-time private-sector workers to earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. Workers employed by businesses with 10 or more employees will be able to earn up to five paid sick days or 40 hours per year. Workers employed by businesses with nine or less employees will be able to earn three paid sick days or 24 hours per year.

Employees directly in contact with the public would be able to earn five sick days a year regardless of company size, and the days can be used to care for themselves or family members. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Wisniewski gives baroni and Wildstein more time to comply with subpoena

TRENTON – The chairman of the Assembly committee leading the investigation over the George Washington Bridge lane closure controversy is giving the two officials who resigned from the Port Authority until Dec. 23 to respond to the committee’s subpoena.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19) issued a statement indicating former top Port Authority executives Bill Baroni and David Wildstein have until Monday to respond to his committee’s subpoena. Outside counsel hired by the men requested additional time to deliver the documents in separate letters delivered to the Office of Legislative Services Tuesday afternoon.

The lawmaker denied a request for a three-week extension. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Barack Obama’s NSA fine-print problem

An independent panel’s call for major changes to the nation’s surveillance programs ups the pressure on President Barack Obama to back serious reforms.

But the big changes the committee is calling for may be less vexing for Obama than one painful, half-buried conclusion: Vacuuming up all that data the National Security Agency collects in its call-tracking database, the panel says, hasn’t actually done much to protect the country from terrorism.

And so the panel’s report raises a pointed question: If collecting huge volumes of metadata on telephone calls from, to and within the United States doesn’t bring much benefit, just how much political capital is Obama willing to spend to keep the program going? (Gerstein/Politico)

Four Former NJ Governors Oppose Pinelands Pipeline Project

In letter to Pinelands Commission, governors from both sides of the aisle caution not to ‘compromise the integrity’ of Pinelands Plan

In a highly unusual rebuke, four former governors — two Republicans and two Democrats — have written to the New Jersey Pinelands Commission opposing a proposal to build a natural gas pipeline through the protected Pinelands Forest Management Area.

The joint letter signed by former Democratic Govs. Brendan Byrne and Jim Florio and Republicans Thomas Kean and Christie Whitman expresses concern about a proposed 22-mile gas pipelinebeginning in Maurice River and ending at the B.L. England plant in Upper Township in Cape May County. (Johnson/NJSpotlight)  




Newark City Council Nears Vote on Paid Sick Leave

Regulation would require most small businesses to let workers earn sick time for hours worked

With Newark poised to join Jersey City in requiring local companies in 2014 to provide earned, paid sick days for employees, several legislators and activists say they want the state to follow suit.

The Newark City Council continued work Wednesday on an ordinance set for a January 8 vote that would require companies in the state’s largest city to provide up to five paid sick days a year to workers.

If passed, workers would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked and would be able to use their sick time for their own or a family member’s illness. The ordinance, which would make Newark the seventh city in the country to mandate paid sick days, would cover most of city’s low-wage workforce, including fast-food workers, homecare employees, childcare workers, and airport support personnel. It could go into effect beginning in May. (Kalet/NJSpotlight)  

Fine Print: Camden Superintendent’s “Listening Tour” Adresses School Woes

New state-appointed leader details feedback from community as prelude to unveiling strategic plan for 2014

What it is: Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard, appointed by Gov. Chris Christie three months ago, reported Tuesday on what he gleaned from four community town halls and another eight smaller meetings held around the city with teachers, parents, students, and other residents to hear their concerns about the public schools.

The school chief’s presentation touched on everything from lagging instructional standards to inadequate safety in school buildings to the district’s 50 percent high-graduation rate – and even the fact that only three Camden students scored high enough on the SATs last year to be deemed to have college potential.

What it means: The presentation is expected to be the foundation of Rouhanifard’s strategic plan, which was slated to be released 100 days into his tenure and is now expected to be presented in mid-January. (Mooney/NJSpotlight)  

N.J. drug court saluted for turning around addicts’ lives  

PATERSON —  Keith Jones stood at a podium in a Passaic County College auditorium in front of friends, family, police officers, prosecutors and judges to proudly declare that he has a job, he has credit and he has respect.

The reason, he said, was that he had turned his substance-abusing life around, thanks to the state Superior Court’s county-based drug court program — on Wednesday, the 45-year-old grandfather was one of 24 people graduating from the program that day.

“I learned how to be responsible,” Jones said. “I was a 40-year-old man living with my parents. I took the opportunity to change my life.”

He’s now a truck driver for a company in Wayne. He worked up to that position during the past two years. He started as a package handler and then as a machine operator.

“I have credit,” Jones said as his voice boomed over the packed room. “I bought two new cars in the past year … it’s just from paying my bills on time.”

It’s successes like Jones’ that lead many involved in the drug court program, like Judge Rudolf Filko, to declare, “Drug court works.”

Statewide, there have been 3,400 graduates from state drug courts, and 379 of them have come from Passaic County, Filko said. What’s most important, said the judge, is that 144 parents have regained custody of their children and 286 drug-free babies have been born to drug court alumni.

The county’s drug court is one of three programs set for a mandatory expansion next year under a law signed by Governor Christie that requires non-violent drug offenders to be sentenced to treatment programs instead of prison. The Atlantic and Cape May counties joint court and the Mercer court are the others. The full expansion will be rolled out over five years. (McGrath/The Record)  




State Assembly expected to pass bill to make college more affordable for immigrants

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Legislation making college more affordable for thousands of foreign-born students living in New Jersey illegally is facing its final legislative hurdle.

The state Assembly is expected to pass the so-called tuition equality bill along party lines on Thursday, sending it to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk.

The governor and possible 2016 presidential candidate has said he supports the concept of extending cheaper in-state tuition rates to New Jersey students who were brought to the country illegally as children. But Christie said he would veto the current bill because it grants benefits that are too generous.

Christie doesn’t want this group of students to be eligible for financial aid. He also wants to close a loophole he says could make New Jersey a magnet for foreign-born students from other states.  (Associated Press)  

Mug shot bill opposition is growing  

TRENTON — Opposition is building against a proposal by New Jersey lawmakers to make police booking photos confidential — a change that the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said could be “a first step to limiting public access to other important government records.”

The Assembly will vote on A-3906 today. The legislation would keep mug shots off-limits to the public until a conviction is secured, even in cases where serious crimes are alleged.

The measure is strongly opposed by the New Jersey Press Association, a trade group representing the Asbury Park Press and 19 other daily newspapers serving the state.

“In short, it exalts the rights of persons arrested over the public’s right to know who has been arrested with probable cause,” said George White, the group’s executive director. (Jordan/Asbury Park Press)  

New Jersey credit outlook lowered to ‘negative’

TRENTON — A major credit-rating agency has lowered the outlook for New Jersey to negative from stable in part because tax collections are behind expectations due to a sluggish economic recovery.

Moody’s Investors Service announced the change Tuesday. Moody’s did not alter the state’s debt rating, which remains Aa3 — its fourth-highest investment-grade rating.

The Christie administration criticized the move, saying the state is in a better long-term financial position than Moody’s suggests and that the agency did not give proper weight to positives in the state’s economy, including an unemployment rate that has dropped throughout 2013.

The firm said the state has a relatively high amount of debt, lacks a specific plan to build up fund balances and is facing difficulty because of increasing pension obligations for public employees. (Associated Press)  





Iowans Favor Chris Christie Over Hillary Clinton, Poll Shows

If the 2016 election were held today, Iowans would pick Republican Chris Christie over Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to a Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday.

The New Jersey governor led the former Secretary of State in the poll 45-40 percent. When Quinnipiac last polled Iowa voters in July, Christie and Clinton were tied at 41 percent.

In other hypothetical match-ups, Clinton would beat Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) by a single percentage point, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) by seven points and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) by seven points.

A separate poll by the Des Moines Register found that Iowans hold another potential presidential contender, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), in high esteem: He has a 73 percent approval rating from Republicans in the state. Eighty-nine percent of Iowa Democrats have a favorable opinion of Clinton.

Success in Iowa is crucial in presidential politics, as it both a swing state and the first state to hold a caucus or primary.

The Quinnipiac poll surveyed 1,617 Iowa voters by phone Dec. 10-15 and has a margin of error of 2.4 percentage points. The Des Moines Register polled 650 eligible Iowa voters Dec. 8-11 and has a margin of error of 7.3 percent for Republicans and 8 percentage points for Democrats. (Lachman/Huffington Post)  





Port Authority Transparency Sought in New Bill

A New Jersey Assembly member is reintroducing legislation, already vetoed once by Gov. Chris Christie, to increase transparency at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle’s bill would require external audits of Port Authority spending, and more convenient hours for public hearings where toll hikes are proposed.

Huttle, D-Englewood, said she is putting the measure back on the table while the recent and ongoing “Bridgegate” scandal remains in the public consciousness. (Cutter/NJ101.5)  





Chris Christie is a top GOP choice to run for president in 2016, poll finds

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie leads the pack of politicians Republicans around the country would like to see run for president in 2016 – but not by much.

A Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll released this morning shows that 18 percent of self-described Republicans surveyed said they’d like to see Christie as the Republican nominee. Fifteen percent went for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, 14 percent for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, 11 percent for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and 4 percent for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Sixteen percent of Republicans chose “someone else.”

Christie’s lead over Paul and Cruz is within the poll’s margin of error, meaning they’re essentially tied. (Friedman/Star-Ledger)  





As D.C. pols cry for Bridgegate investigations, Booker and Menendez remain mum

When the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey sought to raise tolls a little over two years ago, an enraged Sen. Frank Lautenberg used his position on the Senate transportation committee to call for a hearing on the hike.

Lautenberg called for testimony from Port Authority brass to defend the increase. Though the hearing didn’t work out so well for the now deceased senator,he continued to fight against the toll hikes on behalf of New Jersey commuters.  In the wake of the increase, Lautenberg introduced legislation that would have allowed the secretary of transportation to roll back any excessive toll hike by an agency that received federal funding.

Sen. Bob Menendez also took on the issue on behalf of state commuters, calling on the governor to “veto” the toll hike and “have the Port Authority come back with more reasonable options.”

Menendez also called for an audit of the agency’s books. (Isherwood/  


From the Back Room


Baroni and Wildstein retain outside counsel

The two Port Authority officials who resigned in the wake of the George Washington Bridge lane closure controversy have hired outside counsel, according to reports.

The Wall Street Journal reported Gov. Chris Christie’s appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, former state Sen. Bill Baroni, and another former top executive, David Wildstein, retained private attorneys.

The pair sought counsel in response to the widening investigation into why lanes of traffic were closed to the GWB, according to the newspaper.

Wilstein recently hired Alan L. Zegas, a criminal lawyer from Chatham, N.J. , to represent him. Baroni retained Michael Himmel, of Lowenstein Sandler LLP. (PolitickerNJ)   

Report: Senate president’s brother served subpoena in federal investigation

The state’s top lawmaker’s brother was among several officials subpoenaed by federal prosecutors, according to reports.

South Jersey labor leader Richard Sweeney, brother of Senate President Steve Sweeney, was among the multiple officials served as part of the U.S. Attorney’s Office investigation of millions of dollars of politically connected economic-development spending by the Delaware River Port Authority, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office also served subpoenas to at least three authority board members, Camden County Freeholder Jeffrey Nash and Philadelphia lawyer William Sasso, the newspaper reported.

Richard Sweeney is an official with the ironworkers’ union. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)



Hustling History–When Truth is Better than Fiction

Why can’t filmmakers see the story in history?

Because I’m a sucker for any plotline that involves New Jersey, I plan to see the new movie “American Hustle,” inspired by the Abscam scandal of the 1970s. But I’m already disappointed by the caveat that appears on the screen before it starts: “Some of this actually happened.”

If there’s any story that doesn’t need embroidering, it’s Abscam, with its cast of colorful conmen, FBI agents operating on the edge of the law, and politicians so greedy that they accepted bribes from a palpably bogus sheik — all exhaustively documented in untold hours of courtroom transcripts and secretly recorded videotapes.

I only hope that “American Hustle” is as funny as The Selling of Vince D’Angelo, Danny DeVito’s take on Abscam that was released in 1983.

I’ll never understand why moviemakers insist on fictionalizing historical events that are dramatic enough in their own right. Sticking to the facts doesn’t have to result in a tendentious documentary or a lifeless History Channel production.

In writing the screenplay for “Lincoln,” Tony Kushner went to great lengths to ensure its historical accuracy, and that effort helped earn him his Oscar nomination.

When I first saw the movie, I thought I caught Kushner in an obvious error: Lincoln tells his cabinet that he intends to sign the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery. (Everyone should know that congressionally approved Constitutional amendments are sent directly to the states for ratification without any action by the president.) But when I got home and did some research I discovered that Lincoln actually did sign the Thirteenth Amendment even though he had no legal reason for doing so.

Still, Kushner took some unnecessary liberties with the truth. For instance, his depiction of the floor debate on the Thirteenth Amendment is characterized by trash-talk that clearly violates the rules of the House of Representatives and would never be permitted by even the most inept Speaker (let alone Schuyler Colfax, who went on to become vice president). (Zimmer/NJSpotlight)

     Morning Digest: Dec. 19, 2013