Morning Digest: Jan. 7, 2013

Assembly passes bill allowing registered voters to receive mail-in ballots automatically

TRENTON – A bill permitting registered voters to receive mail-in ballots automatically for all elections under certain conditions was passed by the state Assembly on Monday.

The Assembly measure (A1336, which was substituted by the Senate measure, S1682), also limits the number of sample ballots transmitted to each residence. The bill passed by a 48-31 margin along strictly partisan lines, with the Democrats in the majority.

The state Senate passed its own version of the bill on Dec. 19 by a 23-12 margin. The approved legislation will now be forwarded to Gov. Chris Christie for final signature. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)




Sweeney’s office fires back at Fulop 

TRENTON – Senate President Steve Sweeney’s office is suggesting Jersey City’s mayor is more concerned with playing political games than “focusing on his job.”

A Sweeney spokesman, Chris Donnelly, responded Monday following an attack against the Senate president by Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, who charged Sweeney with refusing to post a bill because the state’s top lawmaker wants to punish him.

“The mayor failed to contact the Senate president about this legislation until this morning,” Donnelly said in a statement. “He has been in office since July, so instead of focusing on politics for the last six months, he should have been focusing on his job for the taxpayers of Jersey City.”

The bill would bring Jersey City’s pension system into alignment with the state pension system. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)



Christie, GOP push for ‘banding’ of positions decried by Democrats as threat to job security

Even before the state Civil Service Commission has completed action on one of Gov. Chris Christie’s pet projects, altering employee job protections, Assembly Democrats have declared any such action unconstitutional.

With the commission scheduled to hold a hearing next month on its plan to group jobs together in “bands,” the Assembly voted 48-31 along party lines on a resolution prohibiting or invalidating such a change. (Tyrrell/NJSpotlight) 





Critics charge law would encourage sprawl in environmentally sensitive areas, endanger drinking water 

For the second time in a lame-duck session in just two years, state lawmakers yesterday approved a bill that would delay controversial water-quality rules, a move critics say may imperil drinking water and spur sprawl in environmentally sensitive areas.

At the end of a hearing before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, the panel overwhelmingly voted out a bill (S-3107) to extend for another two years adoption of water-quality management regulations, a step that could allow easier expansion of sewer lines and septic systems in the state, according to critics. (Johnson/NJSpotlight) 




Bill setting new rules for teen nights heads to Christie’s desk

Governor Christie was sent a bill regulating teen social nights at bars and other adult-oriented businesses after the Assembly approved the measure Monday.

The bill would require businesses hosting teen nights to hire police officers for security, limit the age groups that may attend and forbid registered sex offenders from working the social events.

“Teen nights can be great social experiences for young people in our communities as long as there are proper provisions in place to ensure their safety,” said Assemblyman Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, in a statement. “Our legislation sets those standards for staff and security in an establishment such as a nightclub.”

The bill had already passed the Senate before being approved by the Assembly 53-21.

Under the bill, every employee of a business hosting a teen night would be required to undergo a background check. (Phillis/The Record) 



Sex Trafficking A Big Concern Ahead Of Super Bowl In New Jersey

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Law enforcement agents in New Jersey have redoubled efforts to fight what they worry could be one of the biggest menaces to come with next month’s Super Bowl: sex trafficking.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors are expected to descend on New Jersey for the Feb. 2 football game. Many believe the state’s sprawling highway system, proximity to New York City and diverse population make it an attractive base of operations for traffickers.

“New Jersey has a huge trafficking problem,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who is co-chairman of the House anti-human trafficking caucus. “One Super Bowl after another after another has shown itself to be one of the largest events in the world where the cruelty of human trafficking goes on for several weeks.”

Law enforcement in New Jersey has worked for years to battle forced prostitution. The state strengthened its human trafficking law in early 2013, but it hit a roadblock in August when a federal judge ruled that a portion of the law that pertains to commercial sex ads posted online may conflict with federal legislation. The state is appealing.

There are scant statistics and much debate over how much sex trafficking increases during a Super Bowl or other large sporting event, but it’s been enough of a concern to prompt New Jersey and previous Super Bowl host cities to pay attention to it. (Zezima and Henry/Huffington Post) 




NJ Gov to sign immigrant tuition act

UNION CITY, N.J. (AP) – Gov. Chris Christie will take part in a ceremonial bill signing for a measure that lowers tuition costs at public colleges for New Jersey students who lack lawful immigration status.

Christie signed the bill privately last month, the day after the Legislature agreed to drop financial aid eligibility for the students. New Jersey is the one of the most recent states to pass so-called “DREAM Act” legislation, which extends cheaper in-state tuition rates to qualifying students were brought illegally to the U.S. as children.

Similar legislation has stalled at the federal level.

Christie is planning to meet with Hispanic leaders in Union City and hold a public signing Tuesday morning at the Colin Powell Elementary School.

The issue had become a distraction for the Republican and possible 2016 presidential candidate. (New Jersey Herald) 




Prisoner benefits scandal: N.J. lawmakers pass bill to close loophole that cost millions

TRENTON — Legislation that would require the state labor department to check every unemployment recipient against a list of people in state prisons or jails passed the state Legislature today and is now on the governor’s desk.

The bill (A3812) passed the Senate today, 36-0, and was again passed by the Assembly, 78-0.

The measure comes in response to a report released last year by state Comptroller Matthew Boxer, whose auditorsdiscovered that at least 20,000 inmates in New Jersey’s jails and prisons were improperly paid nearly $24 million in benefits by government programs over a two-year period. (Hutchins/Star-Ledger) 




GOP lawmaker calls for release of subpoenaed GWB lane closure documents

A Republican lawmaker today called on a Democratic colleague to release subpoenaed documents related to September’s traffic-snarling closure of George Washington Bridge local access lanes.

Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-Passaic) issued a statement demanding that the chairman of the Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee release documents he subpoenaed from current and former officials of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Rumana said the committee chairman, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), has had the documents for two weeks, and should make them public in advance of a related committee hearing scheduled for Thursday in Trenton. Rumana has sat as a Republican substitute member of the committee, and plans to do so again on Thursday. (Strunsky/Star-Ledger) 




From the Backroom



Gerbounka in mulling mode

Two-term Linden Mayor Richard Gerbounka is mulling over running for re-election this year.

“I’m undecided,” he told

Running for re-election against the local Democratic Party machine in 2010, the Vietnam combat veteran/cop barely beat challenger Councilman Derek Armstead, who over the weekend announced his intent to run again.

Armstead ran with the support of the Democratic Party in the heavily Democratic Union County town.

An independent, Gerbounka is a public supporter of Republican Gov. Chris Christie. (PolitickerNJ)



Roseman at state AFL-CIO

The New Jersey State AFL-CIO picked up a former Senate Majority Office spokesman to serve on its communications staff.

Derek Roseman, who more recently worked on statewide races, will help head up communications for the state AFL-CIO. (PolitickerNJ)




Voting at schools: Class dismissed?

Casting a ballot at the local school is about as American as apple pie or, in select communities, allowing dead people to vote.

Now, reports the Associated Press, there’s a movement to take voting machines and ballot boxes out of the all-purpose room. So much so, the AP says, that a presidential commission is hearing from concerned local officials who have been denied use of the schools on Election Day.

The impetus, as might be expected, is the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December 2012, and similar incidents since then.

The concerns are reasonable: Why invite non-vetted strangers into a schoolhouse on one or two days a year, when parents and school officials are all about limiting access to unstable or aggressive individuals on the other 362 days?

There are good reasons why election boards like to utilize schools, however. They’re often centrally located, and everyone in a community is familiar with the address. And, in smaller towns, the school may be the only public facility that has handicapped-accessible rooms that are large enough to support voting. (South Jersey Times) 


For real economic recovery, spend on the middle class and tax the rich

Here’s the sad truth about the so-called “economic recovery” that began in June 2009: For a large number of Americans, it simply doesn’t exist.

As the stock market made giant gains and corporate profits hit record highs, the median income in America has only declined further. And African-Americans got hit hardest of all: While median income overall has dropped about 4 percent since 2009, for blacks, it plummeted by 10.9 percent.

In other words, the recession isn’t over for most Americans. This speaks to the fundamental economic injustice that inspired the Occupy Wall Street protests two years ago, and President Obama’s central argument today: Widening income inequality is the challenge of our time and should be the issue that shapes the 2016 election.

What we really need now is vigorous government efforts to create jobs. Instead of slashing public programs, we must invest in middle-class Americans in order to rekindle the demand that creates and grows jobs. That means raising taxes on the rich and applying more funding to areas such as infrastructure, research and education. (Star-Ledger Editorial Board)   Morning Digest: Jan. 7, 2013