New Jersey lawmakers acted on about 350 bills Friday, their last legislative day until they reconvene in the fall. Hundreds more bills remain in limbo, either stalled or kicked aside by controversy. (Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor)
Lawmakers barreled through roughly 350 bills last Friday before leaving Trenton for their customary summer break — but left a mountain of bills still in limbo until they return to the capitol, possibly not until November.
Their annual June flurry of activity usually ends with a two-month recess, but lawmakers often extend their break to four months during legislative election years, leery of upsetting voters or infringing upon campaign time in the waning weeks before the general election. That’ll be Nov. 7 this year.
Though legislators occasionally return over the summer, such departures are rare and typically limited to single pieces of legislation or a handful of judicial or other gubernatorial nominations.
That leaves countless bills chilling on the back burner for months.
A once-bipartisan measure that would launch a new office to oversee school districts that adopt community school strategies failed to reach floor votes after a sudden upswell of Republican opposition.
Community schools provide access to community services, including health care, mental health counseling, and meals, through partnerships with community groups. Some carry programs for adults, including English classes for non-native speakers and technology courses.
Supporters say providing those services improves academic achievement and boosts graduation rates.
The bill advanced through the Assembly Education and Appropriations committees with bipartisan support but ran into opposition from Republicans when it reached the budget committees in both chambers. Though Democratic majorities could have moved it out of committee, the bill never made it to the floor.
A separate bill that would have created a five-year community schools pilot program cleared the Senate with some bipartisan support but the Assembly did not vote on it before the summer recess. Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), the chamber’s majority leader, sponsored both bills.
The Senate unanimously passed a bill last month to create a 15-member task force to study school safety and security and make recommendations to ensure a safe learning environment, like stationing school resource officers in every school building or creating emergency communication plans. But while an Assembly committee considered the bill in March, it didn’t make it to a vote before the full chamber.
And the Senate has yet to hear another bill that would eliminate a testing requirement to graduate high school, despite passage in the Assembly and pleas from both parents and school officials to end the test. Supporters say exit testing isn’t a good predictor of college success, and testing hurts students of color.
New Jersey is one of only a handful of states that still requires the exit test, even though it has been waived as a graduation requirement since the 2019-2020 school year because of the pandemic and its after-effects.
Law and public safety
Assembly lawmakers overwhelmingly supported barring the sale of delta-8, a synthetic cannabinoid that mimics marijuana’s intoxicating effects but escapes the state’s regulatory framework for cannabis. But the bill did not make it to the Senate floor.
The federal Food and Drug Administration issued warnings in May about delta-8, noting it hadn’t approved the drug and had received reports from users about hallucination, loss of consciousness, anxiety, and other unwanted symptoms. Lawmakers are further concerned delta-8 is being marketed to underage users.
“These products are being sold and marketed to look like candy, to appeal to young people, and they are unregulated, untested, and dangerous,” said Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D-Gloucester), the bill’s prime sponsor.
Moriarty said he was disappointed the bill did not advance to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk before the budget recess but said he was “certain we’ll get it done when we return in the fall.”
After Shore towns complained their boardwalks and beaches were besieged by rowdy teens, lawmakers in the Assembly also unanimously passed a bill creating penalties for underage possession or consumption of alcohol. But the legislation did not come before a Senate committee before lawmakers’ summer break.
The bill would levy a $50 fine underage people who possess or consume alcohol in a public space, school, or vehicle and require police to notify parents if the drinker is a minor, replacing law that called for written warnings or write-ups only.
Under that legislation, officers could be charged with official deprivation of civil rights if deemed to have discriminated against or intimidated someone on the basis of a protected class. Police unions fought that provision, saying officers shouldn’t face such legal penalties for doing their jobs.
Several other bills that drew outcry from criminal justice reformers and civil liberties advocates also stumbled on their way to passage.
Several Democrats introduced a bill to expand electronic monitoring of people charged or convicted of domestic abuse, sexual violence, kidnapping, and human trafficking if a judge deems them “potentially dangerous.” It made it through an Assembly committee, but never saw a full floor vote and stalled completely in the Senate. Critics worried about costs and its racial impact.
Another bill to toughen penalties against people who make or distribute fentanyl sailed through the Senate but didn’t advance past committee in the Assembly. Opponents warned it would hurt people who struggle with addiction, because many users sell drugs to support their addiction.
And a proposal to eliminate county constables, which a state watchdog declared “an outdated relic,” stalled even though it drew no critics in committee hearings. The bill passed the full Assembly in May, with a few Republicans in opposition, but failed to make it to the Senate floor for a vote.
Legislation championed by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) that would’ve allowed more seniors to enroll in Medicare savings programs stalled even as other bills introduced in the same package sailed through the Legislature.
The bill would have raised income limits for the Medicare savings programs to 135% of the federal poverty level, from 100%, and loosened the programs’ asset tests. It would also would have made individuals making up to 200% of the federal poverty level eligible for cost-sharing under Medicare in certain circumstances.
The bill, expected to cost roughly $224 million a year, did not reach a committee vote in the Senate and was pulled from the agendas of budget committees in both chambers. The legislation was part of a package that included the StayNJ program, which would offer property tax credits to New Jerseyans aged 65 and up beginning in 2026.
Another bill that caused a stink also stalled ahead of the summer break. A bill by Sen. Joe Cryan (D-Union) to require “do not flush” labeling on wipes — previously, an outright ban on disposable wipes before it merged with another bill — stalled in the Assembly Consumer Affairs committee.
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