Members of New Jersey’s General Assembly will gather in Trenton on Wednesday for a session day. Due to a number of resolutions put forward by Democrats in the legislature, six of the items on the day’s agenda will focus on opposition to actions taken by President Donald Trump and members of his cabinet.
The day’s schedule has at least one high-ranking Republican legislator, Assembly Minority Whip Anthony Bucco, saying that Democrats are so focused on Washington that they are losing sight of a myriad of pressing problems “happening in their backyard.”
Wednesday’s session will feature AR138, a resolution condemning recent immigration executive orders taken by Trump’s administration and subsequent firing of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates due to her opposition to those orders. That resolution is sponsored by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, Assemblyman Gary Schaer, Assemblywoman Elizabeth Muoio and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, all Democrats.
The session will also feature a bill sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Herb Conaway, ACR223, requesting that Trump and Congress “take action to permit federal Medicaid funding for certain substance use disorder programs.” AR210, sponsored by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Assemblyman John Wisniewski, “opposes action by President to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.” Schaer also introduced resolution AR213 which “condemns Trump for failing to mention Jews or anti-Semitism in Holocaust Remembrance Day statement.” Schaer is the first Orthodox Jew to ever be elected to the New Jersey Legislature.
While it will not be heard on Wednesday, A4590 (S3007 in the state Senate) is a bill proposed by state Senator Brian Stack and Assemblyman Raj Mukerji, both Democrats, last week to protect cities from budget shortfalls due to Trump’s plan to withhold federal funding for those municipalities with sanctuary jurisdiction. That bill proposes a “dollar-for-dollar match of state appropriated moneys to supplement any deficit created by the loss of federal grant funding.”
For Republican Bucco, Democratic actions against Trump are distracting from issues in New Jersey.
“I think it is a mistake on their part,” Bucco said of Democrats. “I get it. there is a lot of change going on in Washington. With change comes trepidation. I think they are really making a mistake because while they focus on the issues happening in D.C. and they exert their energy toward those issues, they lose sight of what is happening in their backyard.”
According to Bucco, it is the duty of New Jersey’s congressional delegation to deal with issues in Washington while the state legislature should focus on issues that hit close to home. In particular, Bucco said he feels Democrats should focus on making the state more affordable through legislation in the areas of reforming school funding to bring about property tax reduction, reform the pension and health benefits systems and on affordable housing.
“Those three issues alone are costing state and local governments billions of dollars but we spend the entire legislative day focused on things that are happening in Washington,” Bucco said.
Bucco also said that the sanctuary cities bill, in particular, has the potential to create a significant budgetary issue in New Jersey.
“There is no way the state of New Jersey could afford to even begin to think about that kind of funding. Set aside whether it is a good or bad policy issue. There is just not enough money in the budget,” Bucco said. “Could it have impacts on our local residents? I’m sure it could. But it doesn’t seem to me like we are at that stage where people are really having problems. I haven’t heard anything from any of my constituents. To the contrary, I am getting calls from my constituents asking what I am doing to make it more affordable to live in New Jersey.”
As a member of the state’s minority party, Bucco said that sweeping actions from Democrats are often “frustrating.” He said that, while he can’t speak for every member of the Republican caucus, there appears to be a general consensus among his Republican colleagues that a shift is needed in order for constituents to be effectively heard. Bucco said that he supports limiting the number of bills legislators can put forward in order to limit focus to only the most important issues. Upwards of 6,000 bills are introduced by the state legislature during any given year. Bucco wants to see that capped at 2,200.
But, while Bucco thinks the Democrats are misguided in their thinking, Prieto said that New Jersey’s majority party intends to remain vigilant regarding the Trump administration.
“Assembly Democrats will never back down from defending the civil rights and well-being of our state’s residents. We will stand up for New Jersey residents anytime and anyplace. National policies often have direct impact on the lives of New Jersey families, and Assembly Democrats will be there for New Jersey families on each and every issue,” Prieto said.
In addition to actions relating to the Trump administration, Wednesday’s Assembly session will also focus on preventing opiate/heroin abuse, ensuring gender pay equity for businesses receiving government assistance, and requiring life in prison for those who convict the murder of a minor, among other issues. Fifty two bills and resolutions will be heard in total.