Bills to dedicate state money received through environmental contamination settlements to environmental purposes, modernize and streamline outdated voter laws, and reign in an embattled Port Authority make up the highlights of Monday’s legislative session in Trenton. Here’s a quick look at the details of some of the legislation up for review.
Senate Environment and Energy
At 1 p.m., the committee will hold a public hearing on SCR-163, a resolution that would amend the state’s constitution in order to dedicate all money received through environmental contamination settlements — such as the state’s recent settlement with Exxon Mobil — for certain environmental purposes. At the committee’s last meeting, lawmakers removed a provision that would obligate settlement money to be put toward bond repayment, as well as added one that dedicated five percent of the money to administrative costs. Sponsored by state Senator Bob Smith (D-17), the hearing comes as lawmakers await a Superior Court judge’s final approval of Gov. Chris Christie’s $225 million settlement with Exxon over a series of decades-old environmental lawsuits surrounding contamination at the company’s former refinery sites in places like Bayway and Linden.
Assembly Appropriations Committee
Democratic leaders say the state’s voting laws are “outdated, and last week introduced a bill to bring them up to speed. Dubbed the “Democracy Act,” the bill aims to make it easier for residents to register to vote and vote in state elections by implementing online voter registration, same day registration, universal registration, and expanded access for young and non-English speaking voters — all meant to bring up-to-date the state’s voting laws and technologies amid a shifting population that experts say is expected to change dramatically in the next several years. The bill is being fast-tracked by its Democratic sponsors — including Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37), Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto (D-32) and Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-6) — who want the bill on Gov. Chris Christie’s desk by next month, and will be considered by members of the Assembly Appropriations Committee at their 2 p.m. hearing.
With lawmakers in New York and New Jersey gearing up for a second push to set into law a series of reforms at an embattled Port Authority, the Assembly Transportation Committee will hear testimony from the bi-state agency’s chairman, John Degnan, at 11 a.m. Lawmakers last week announced that they had come to a compromise on the issue — which had once divided them — with a bill introduced in the New York legislature that combines aspects of an earlier bill sponsored by state Senator Tom Kean, Jr. (R-21) earlier this year, as well as recommendations proposed by the bi-state commission tasked with investigating the agency last year, and it quickly received the support of Gov. Chris Christie and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, both of whom vetoed earlier versions of Democratic-back legislation in both houses. The new legislation is set to be sponsored again by Kean in New Jersey, and Degnan will no doubt be grilled on the bill today.
The Senate Labor Committee will once again take up paid sick leave legislation at their 12 p.m. hearing, when members consider S785. The statewide measure sponsored by state Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-37) could, proponents say, alleviate many of the “patchwork” effects opponents argue local paid sick leave ordinances passed by towns across the state in recent months has had on businesses, though it’s unclear how much agreement there is among members of legislature over the specifics of the bill, which some worry could weaken those same municipal ordinances already in place. It’s also unclear, though probably unlikely, given his burgeoning presidential ambitions and previous comments on the issue, that Gov. Chris Christie would support such a measure.