NJ Lawmakers Must Show Up Or Give Up Office Under Legislation [AUDIO]
Being a New Jersey legislator is not a full-time job. When the Legislature is in session, lawmakers are typically required to be at the State House in Trenton, just twice a week at most.
The State Senate and General Assembly routinely break from Thanksgiving through the start of the next year. They're also off for most if not all of the summer and often don't return to session until after the November election. Today, a Senate panel will consider a bill that reduces the period of time from ten days to five days that a member of the Legislature may be absent, without excuse, before the member's seat is deemed vacant.
Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean sponsors the measure.
He says, "People are elected to show up and do their jobs. If you disagree with the policies, fight against the policies…….If you are unable to do that, unwilling to do it or too afraid to do you don't deserve to be in elected office."
Kean thinks the change in the law will help to ensure that the citizens don't have substantial disruptions in their representation in the Legislature. It is also designed to deter members from leaving the jurisdiction, as has occurred in certain other states, or otherwise deliberately failing to attend sessions, in order to avoid votes on certain issues.
The measure is partly in response to a 2011 situation in Wisconsin when many Democrats actually fled the state rather than vote on a bill that would slash collective bargaining rights for public workers. Republicans were left in limbo and eventually had to adjourn their session. Kean calls the Democrats' decision to disappear rather than fight, "cowardly," but says his bill is not a partisan issue because every elected official should perform his or her duties.
"Fleeing a state to go to a neighboring state just simply so you don't have to cast a difficult vote or to lose a vote is absurd," says Kean. "Skipping votes or skipping entire sessions on a frequent basis means you're not doing your job for the constituents."
The bill does not apply to lawmaker who may be ill or have any other valid reason for missing a scheduled legislative session. Kean says it only applies to unexcused absences.