Surprise! School bus camera bill fails to pass in Senate
On a day of legislative speed-dating, when 140 bills were approved and sent to Gov. Chris Christie, mostly without debate, the school-bus camera bill was a colorful exception – and then unexpectedly didn’t pass, despite support from 90 percent of lawmakers.
The surprise demise of the camera bill was one of the few curves on the last day of the two-year legislative session. The Senate passed a slightly different version a year ago, 30-1, and the Assembly approved it 61-3-6 hours before it hit a roadblock among Senate Democrats.
“We had a big debate in our caucus whether it’s another red-light camera bill or is a legitimate bill of a safety need,” said Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester. “The votes weren’t there to pass it today. Doesn’t mean it can’t come back in the next session.”
The proposal calls for fines of $250 for a first offense, and $500 for subsequent offenses, but no motor vehicle points if a school-bus camera catches drivers passing illegally.
Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, said lawmakers will vote for anything done under the guise of safety.
“If we came up with a bill that ordered every puppy in New Jersey to be killed but called it a child safety bill, we’d have a number of members in this house that would be inclined to vote for it,” he said.
O’Scanlon said people would wind up being ticketed not just for passing school buses with their lights flashing but for what he called technical violations, such as stopped a few feet closer to a parked bus than 25 feet away, or for passing a bus at 12 mph rather than 10 mph across a divided highway.
Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, said he trusts police officers to watch videos recorded by school-bus cameras and decide which drivers get ticketed.
“I do like to believe that not every police officer, every law enforcement officer is trying to play gotcha,” Singleton said.
There was nearly a second surprise, as a bill that would boost the pension of elected officials who changed offices, such as Dana Redd, a former state senator who recently completed her term as the mayor of Camden, passed with the minimum 41 votes, after being nine short in an initial vote.
By overwhelming majorities of 30-3 in the Senate and 61-10 in the Assembly, lawmakers voted to approve the richest tax incentive in state history – up to $100,000 per job if Amazon builds it second headquarters in New Jersey.
Amazon said its headquarters could employ up to 50,000 people, which would mean a $5 billion tax subsidy from the state. The top incentives – $10,000 per job per year for 10 years – would apply once a project creates 30,000 jobs, which was described by Sweeney as a more realistic employment goal.
Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-Morris, said the bill would provide billions of dollars to a company that earned a $47 billion profit in 2016 and is headed by the world’s richest man.
“This bill, as we know, is aimed at one company and one company only. It has a legislative name but it could very well just be the Late Christmas Present to Amazon bill.”
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, said the message being sent is that “New Jersey is ready to do business.”
“And we’re going to compete, whatever it takes. Which means we must give tax incentives,” said Bramnick. “I wish we didn’t have to. I wish we were more competitive. But we’re not.”
Left off the list of last-minute activity was a proposed subsidy for the PSEG nuclear plants in Salem County, which could cost ratepayers around $40 a year if approved. Sweeney said incoming Gov. Phil Murphy’s office blocked the bill without explanation after asking him to get it done.
“I’m reintroducing the bill as it is, and I’m anxious to see what he’s talking about – you know, other clean energy things. Because I’m pro-wind, I’m pro-solar, I’m pro-RGGI, so I’m not sure what we’re missing,” Sweeney said.
On Monday, federal regulators rejected a rule proposed by the Department of Energy that would have subsidized coal and nuclear plants. They directed regional power markets to submit reports in March on grid resilience issues in their areas.
Critics of the PSEG bill in Trenton had warned that New Jersey ratepayers could wind up paying to subsidize nuclear power more than once, depending on state and federal decisions.