Casino smoking ban among measures that remain in limbo at end of 2022
Casino workers have a ton of support in the Legislature to ban smoking inside casinos, but the bill remains in limbo. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Workers spent much of 2022 trying to ban smoking in New Jersey casinos, but made little progress.
The state’s 2006 law that is meant to guarantee smoke-free workplaces exempted casinos, and though legislation that would end that exemption has won sponsorships from a majority of lawmakers in both legislative chambers, the bill has not reached so much as a committee vote.
“It’s been over 16 years,” said Nicole Vitola, a co-leader of Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects. “We have online gaming. The smokers are more than welcome to smoke at home. There’s so many different options at this point. To risk our lives every day on a daily basis is ridiculous, irresponsible.”
Casino owners have said the ban would drive smoking gamblers to gaming houses in neighboring Pennsylvania, and Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) has said he shares those concerns.
Ban proponents say it’s a health issue, noting dealers and other staff have developed ailments after breathing in secondhand smoke on the casino floor.
The smoking-in-casinos measure was just one of a handful of notable bills that did not make it to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk in 2022.
Several measures aimed at making basic hygiene products more affordable and accessible for women and children remain in limbo.
One bill would allow parents to use public assistance benefits to buy diapers, which have grown pricier in recent years due to supply-chain and labor challenges. One in three families can’t afford the diapers they need to keep babies clean, dry, and healthy, according to the National Diaper Bank Network.
Government safety-net programs don’t consider diapers a basic need, classifying them with cigarettes, alcohol, and pet food as disallowed purchases under public assistance.
The bill, introduced in March by Assemblywomen Shanique Speight (D-Essex), Mila Jasey (D-Essex), and Angela McKnight (D-Hudson), remains stalled in the Assembly’s human services committee and has no Senate companion.
Legislative resolutions urging Congress to allow diaper purchases with public assistance dollars also went nowhere, as did another bill that would require insurers to cover diapers when they’re deemed medically necessary. That proposal, sponsored by Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex), has no Assembly companion and is stuck in the Senate Commerce Committee.
One New Jersey lawmaker is hopeful a long-stalled bill to end jury ineligibility for people with criminal convictions will pass in the new year.
The legislation would undo a state law that places a lifetime prohibition on jury service for people convicted of indictable offenses, which can range from major crimes like murder to relatively minor ones like criminal trespassing.
Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer), a prime sponsor of the bill, said it has support among her colleagues, and she’s confident it’ll move in the new year.
“It’s definitely at the top of our priorities. It’s something a lot of our social justice advocates in the state have been asking for,” she said.
New Jersey’s strict jury service is an outlier, with only four other states holding similar laws on lifetime bans on jury service. Research released by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice in August estimates that up to 269,000 Black New Jerseyans are banned from jury service due to a criminal conviction. New Jersey has some of the largest Black-white incarceration disparities in the country.
The bill was introduced in the Assembly nearly a year ago, and still awaits a hearing in the chamber’s Judiciary committee. The Senate companion bill was introduced in September, and is also stalled in committee.
“I’d like to speak it into existence for 2023 already,” Reynolds-Jackson said.
A Republican proposal to tie New Jersey’s income tax brackets to inflation has languished in the absence of enough support from Democrats.
The bill’s GOP backers note that inflation pushes New Jerseyans into higher tax brackets over time, effectively increasing their tax burden even though their purchasing power does not increase. New Jersey’s low and moderate-income tax brackets have been in stasis since 2009.
“It’s been over 30 years since we’ve seen a reduction in any of our income tax brackets, and it’s my understanding that 60% of our residents live paycheck to paycheck,” Sen. Tony Bucco (R-Morris) said in March. “By giving them this small break, it will give them some hope, especially those in the low- and middle-income tax brackets that get hit the hardest.”
Democrats have worried privately that indexing income tax brackets for inflation would have a severe impact on one of the state’s major revenue sources, a particular worry as tax collections begin to moderate — as they did in November — after a post-pandemic boom.
The GOP’s Assembly leader said this issue is a priority for the party in 2023.
A series of “menstrual equity” bills intended to reduce period poverty and improve menstrual health have also stalled. Despite winning unanimous approval in multiple committees, they have failed to make it to a vote before either chamber.
The bills would cut the cost of pads, tampons, and other period products by requiring homeless shelters to provide them for free, allocating $200,000 for food pantries to buy menstrual hygiene products for low-income residents, requiring public assistance programs to include period products among covered benefits, and establishing requirements for the state to buy menstrual products in bulk.
Other bills would require manufacturers to list ingredients on the packaging of period products, health providers to screen for endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome, and schools to teach students in grades 4 through 12 about toxic shock syndrome, a life-threatening, treatable condition caused by bacteria and often associated with tampon use.
It’s not often that a bill passed unanimously by the Legislature can’t make it into law. But that’s what happened with A2472, a measure that would make clear that candidates for office are subject to New Jersey’s bribery statute. It has remained unmoved in the Senate after being returned there by a conditional veto Murphy said was meant to close loopholes present in the legislation.
The decade-old proposal drew renewed attention after a Superior Court judge ruled former Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell could not be charged for accepting a bribe during his 2018 campaign for Bayonne mayor because he did not hold office at the time and therefore could not deliver his part of the bargain. An appeals court overturned that decision, but the New Jersey Supreme Court in October agreed to hear O’Donnell’s case.
Sen. Joe Cryan (D-Union) told the New Jersey Monitor in October that the Senate will not take up Murphy’s recommended changes because they are not needed.
“The changes made in the bill are unacceptable,” Cryan said. “The Legislature passed a bill unanimously, and it shouldn’t have been vetoed.”
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