Trenton’s year-end blitz: 100 new laws, Christie veto override on agenda
TRENTON — Lawmakers are jamming a blur of work into Monday’s final sessions of 2016, with almost 110 bills scheduled for votes in the Senate and Assembly.
The headline bill is a proposal to grant raises to nearly 700 public officials, including judges, county constitutional officers and state department heads, that would total around $10 million a year and growing. That bill would also change state ethics law to allow Gov. Chris Christie, and other current and future executive branch officials, to profit from a book deal while in office.
An unrelated bill being advanced in a package with the book-deal plan would allow legally mandated public notices to be printed on government websites, rather than in local newspapers. Publishers warn that smaller weekly newspapers would likely close if that happens, with up to 300 newspaper employees losing their jobs.
The balance of the agenda includes some interesting votes, too, including the Senate’s latest bid to override one of Christie’s vetoes.
Three times, most recently in May, Christie has rejected bills intended to strengthen New Jersey’s law that seeks to ensure equal pay for women, who on average in New Jersey are paid 80 cents of what men are paid for the same job.
If lawmakers voted the way they did when the bill was passed last winter, the override would succeed. Often, though, most Republicans who’ve voted for a bill the first time end up siding with Christie after a veto.
But there’s a first time for everything, says Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen.
“I’m always optimistic. Sometimes with no reason. But I still maintain a certain amount of optimism,” Weinberg said.
“If we take no action, we will not reach pay equity in New Jersey until the year 2055," she said.
Such efforts have consistently failed over the last seven years. The few times an override seemed imminent, Christie has negotiated a last-minute compromise to maintain his perfect record.
No Republicans attended an event last week where Democrats touted the override effort. But politics may be as important as policy for Democrats in this instance. Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, noted women are a majority of the electorate in the state.
“I would ask – I’m being very focused and very political – that all the women in the state of New Jersey remember in November of 2017 who was with you and who wasn’t,” Smith said.
“Pay equity is not a party issue, and I’m sending a message out there to the other side of the aisle,” said Laurel Brennan, secretary-treasurer of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO. “It’s not a women’s issue, either. It’s a family issue.”
Christie’s conditional veto recommended changes sought by business groups when the bill was considered by the Legislature, including limiting the amount of back pay for which a woman could sue to two years, rather than making it unlimited. Federal law now allows two years.
Christie also wants to remove a provision that would prohibit employers from requiring workers to agree to shorten the statute of limitations for anti-discrimination claims, eliminate a change that would allow courts to triple any damages that are awarded and eliminate expanded reporting requirements for state contractors.
Among the many other bills on Monday’s schedule in the Legislature:
- Create positions for 20 new Superior Court judges, to help implement criminal justice reforms taking effect in January.
- Disqualify casino owners who close a casino from opening a new one for five years.
- Prohibit the Christie administration from changing a rule to make it easier for people to obtain permits to carry guns.
- Allow people to sell baked goods they make in their home kitchens.
- Let breweries sell beer at farmers’ markets.
- Exclude numbers of arrests and tickets from being used to evaluate police officers.
- Put in place foreclosure protections for Superstorm Sandy survivors.
- Extend for two years the existence of four Urban Enterprise Zones due to expire Dec. 31.