Body camera, telehealth bills get conditional veto from Murphy

By: - November 8, 2021 4:13 pm

The body camera measure saw considerable opposition from transparency and criminal justice reform advocates, who warned the bill would allow cops to avoid scrutiny by tailoring their reports to video footage. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Gov. Phil Murphy conditionally vetoed a bill Monday that would allow police officers to review body-worn camera footage before writing reports, removing an amendment that would permit suspects and witnesses to review the same footage.

The measure saw considerable opposition from transparency and criminal justice reform advocates, who warned the bill would allow cops to avoid scrutiny by tailoring their reports to video footage.

The bill cleared both chambers of the Legislature in June with overwhelming margins, seeing a single no vote in the Assembly and four in the Senate, where it saw opposition from Black members.

Murphy’s conditional veto removes a late change to the bill that would have allowed any subject of a police report to review body-worn camera footage before making their statement to authorities. The amendment saw opposition from members on both sides of the aisle, who worried about allowing suspects — including those charged with major crimes — to review camera footage.

Two police unions, the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association and the State Troopers Fraternal Association, have lobbied in favor of the bill’s passage, while the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has lobbied against.

It’s unclear if the Senate will concur with the governor’s veto, which proposed other changes to the bill, including prohibitions on police review of footage in cases where police force is used, a firearm is discharged, or an individual dies in police custody.

The bill would also bar law enforcement officials from reviewing body camera footage prior to drafting reports when an officer knows the given incident would result in a citizen or internal affairs complaint.

The amendments, while welcome, won’t be enough to turn the ACLU in favor of the bill.

“The CV makes a few changes that were positive at the core, but the policy is still concerning,” said Sarah Fajardo, policy director for the ACLU-NJ. “The fight for body-worn camera policy is not over.”

The governor also conditionally vetoed a bill that would require insurers to reimburse customers for telehealth services at rates identical to those used for in-person visits.

The bill, which cleared each chamber unanimously, would have codified pandemic-era health care reforms made to stem the spread of COVID-19 and broadly increase health care access.

The measure faced hurdles over its costs, which could not be determined by the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services. OLS predicted the looser rules on telehealth services would lead to increased costs for the state because more people would use them.

The impacts on NJ FamilyCare, New Jersey’s publicly-funded health insurance program, could similarly not be determined. Just over 2 million New Jerseyans are enrolled in NJ FamilyCare, more than twice the roughly 800,000 who get benefits from two public worker plans.

The governor’s conditional veto would see parity for telehealth service costs sunset in early July, at the start of the new fiscal year, and would establish a study to determine the impacts of the telehealth changes on the state’s health care systems, if the Legislature approves. It would also slash a $5 million appropriation from the bill.

The parity requirement, currently in place under an executive order, is set to expire on Jan. 11, though that deadline can be extended if the administration and Legislature reach an agreement.

Murphy on Monday met with a procedural deadline that forced him to take action on more than 80 bills, about 40 in each chamber.

In New Jersey, bills that sit of the governor’s desk for 45 days or more become law at noon on the day the chamber they originated in meets for a quorum next. Each of the unsigned bills on Murphy’s desk was passed at least four months ago. The Legislature’s Monday committee hearings were its first in months.


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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.