Lame duck season about to begin: Will NJ lawmakers get sneaky?
TRENTON — New Jersey lawmakers are back in the Statehouse on Thursday with several committees considering dozens of proposed bills.
This is the start of what is called the lame duck session, a time after the November election and before new members of the Legislature are sworn in at the start of the new year.
“Any bill that they have floating around has to be decided on before the next Legislature meets, which will be in early January,” said Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
He said if these measures aren’t considered now, “then they have to be reintroduced and they start from scratch. This is the time when legislators and the governor are trying to clean up some of the things that they were moving down the field a little bit but they didn’t get all the way.”
This would include the effort to legalize marijuana.
“They’ve had hearings on it; they want to see if they can get that over the threshold," he said.
Some political leaders have indicated there could be an attempt to get a measure passed to legalize pot, but others indicate this won’t happen, because Democrats simply don’t have the votes.
Murray said because there isn’t a lot of focus on politics as people prepare for the holidays, lawmakers could also try to squeeze other measures through that have failed to gather momentum in the past, including a redistricting plan, and perhaps giving driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants and banning plastic bags in New Jersey stores.
"Things that are very controversial, that they hope will not get a lot of attention, and that they can get the votes of some folks who are going to leave the legislature and don’t have to worry about their legacy," Murray said.
He said sometimes during lame duck lawmakers will get downright sneaky.
“What they’ll do is they’ll try to schedule a last-minute hearing so nobody will hopefully know about it."
Brigid Harrison, a Montclair State University political science professor, said lame duck is usually a time when measures are passed relatively quickly because the thinking is “now that the election is over, no one is really paying attention to politics. It’s a time when legislators try to slip measures past.”
She said this lame duck session probably won’t be as hectic as if we were changing which party controls the legislature, or a governor of a different party was going to take control.
Murray said it’s possible hardly anything at all will get done in Trenton over the next few months because “there still is a huge intra-party battle among the Democrats, so this is not Democrat versus Republican, it’s Democrat versus Democrat and it’s going to raise to a higher level.”
Harrison said in 2017, as the legislative session was winding down and he was close to leaving office, former Gov. Chris Christie “paved the way for about 80 of his political cronies, family members, friends to be appointed to judgeships, the boards of regulatory commissions, that kind of thing. No one was really paying attention. It was the end of the year, people were focused on Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
She said Christie also issued almost $400 million in state debt for construction of government buildings.
“This was something that was controversial. There was opposition to some of this in the city of Trenton but he managed to get it through in a lame duck session.”
Ben Dworkin, the director of the Rowan University Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship, said historically lame duck was a time when politicians who would not be returning to office “would act on their worst impulses, voting themselves raises before they leave and doing other things that are not in the people’s interest.”
He said in more modern times, lame duck is when lawmakers work on what was considered to be tough legislation.
“This is the moment in time that is the furthest away from the next election, so if you’re going to take a tough vote, take it now. The election is done, you’ve got two years, if people don’t like it, to rehabilitate yourself.”
Dworkin said because Democrats have total control of the legislature, “the Democrats are trying to line up their votes, and if they find them they will push forward of some of these ideas (that may be controversial or have not gained approval previously).”
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com