Changes approved by an Assembly panel Monday are part of lawmakers' efforts to roll back a recently enacted ban on police at polling places. (Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)
New Jersey lawmakers want to let police officers into some polling places, but they’d prefer no one know they’re law enforcement.
Officers stationed at schools and senior living communities acting as polling places would be required to be in plain clothes under amendments to bills approved unanimously Monday by the Assembly Oversight, Reform, and Federal Relations Committee.
An earlier version of the bills required plainclothes officers only at senior living communities.
The changes are the latest part of lawmakers’ efforts to pare back a law that bars police from polling places, with few exceptions. That bill, which Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law in January, allows officers to be deployed to a senior residential center if the community reports a threat or safety concern and requests police presence.
The legislation advanced Monday would eliminate the threat threshold, meaning schools and senior living communities hosting voting can request police to be stationed there even in the absence of a threat.
The attempt at a rollback comes amid rising fears of crime and a resurgence of mass shootings nationally, all as election officials continue to face difficulties finding locations to host voting on Election Day, partly because some schools have decided doing so is no longer worth the risk.
Civil rights and social justice advocates have resisted the legislation, charging officers at polling places would depress turnout among voters with criminal records — and Black voters especially.
The bills now await full votes before both chambers. The Assembly will convene for a voting session on Thursday, while the Senate’s next session is scheduled for Nov. 21.
The panel separately approved a series of amendments to a controversial bill seeking to bar firearms in a series of public places in a bid to retool New Jersey’s gun control laws following the U.S. Supreme Court’s strike-down of a New York law limiting the availability of concealed carry permits.
As amended, the bill would require concealed carry permitholders to inform police they are carrying a firearm and show their documentation during a traffic stop and would prevent prosecutions for gun carriers who briefly and incidentally enter a place where firearms are prohibited.
The amendments would also loosen restrictions imposed on retired police officers, who would be allowed to carry concealed handguns on private property, though they would still face restrictions in high-security areas like courthouses and other government buildings.
They would also rein in a provision allowing towns to restrict guns in additional areas that opponents had marked out for a court challenge. The new language only allows municipalities to restrict guns in places where public safety concerns justify a prohibition.
The bills saw little testimony Monday, though New Jersey’s courts raised concerns over who would process concealed-carry permit applications while the New Jersey State Police prepare their application processing system.
Before the U.S. Supreme Court decided the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen case, New Jersey’s courts approved such permits, but those responsibilities are poised to go solely to law enforcement — only they won’t do so until 180 days after the bill is signed into law.
“Delaying the date for these new procedures to take effect puts the judiciary in a very tenuous position of hearing a significantly increased volume of such applications without any additional resources to do the same,” said Pam Geller, a legislative liaison for the Administrative Office of the Courts.
New Jersey’s courts are still dealing with a backlog of more than 80,000 cases accumulated during the pandemic, and large swathes of the bench remain vacant.
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