Burlington County Times

What Else Did NJ Lawmakers Approve Before Breaking For The Summer?

Burlington County Times — July 6, 2017

By David Levinsky, staff writer

TRENTON — It took a little bit longer than expected, but New Jersey lawmakers finally passed a state budget for the new fiscal year Monday night before making a fast exit to embark on a summer away from the Statehouse and on the campaign trail.

All 120 seats in the Legislature are up for grabs this fall and lawmakers are not expected to be [sic] return to Trenton until after the November election.

While the budget and controversial legislation imposing changes on Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey dominated Statehouse discussions during the past two weeks, lawmakers did manage to quietly approve dozens of additional measures before adjourning for the summer.

The bills were sent to Gov. Chris Christie for consideration. Typically the governor has 45 days to take action on bills sent to him by the Legislature, but because the Assembly and Senate aren't expected to reconvene until November, he'll have until the fall to decide on whether to sign or veto any of the recently approved legislation.

Here's a look at some of the bills that were approved and sent to the governor, as well as a few that were apparently shelved until the lame duck session:

BILLS THAT PASSED

Interstate 295 dedication

Among the measures sent to Christie's desk was legislation to rename a portion of Interstate 295 after fallen New Jersey State Police Trooper Sean Cullen.

The Assembly voted unanimously Thursday to pass the legislation to honor the late Cinnaminson resident by naming the section of the interstate in West Deptford, Gloucester County, where he was killed as "State Trooper Sean E. Cullen Memorial Highway."

Cullen, 31, was struck and killed while at the scene of a vehicle fire March 8, 2016. He is survived by his fiancee and two young children.

The Senate previously approved the bill so it now heads to Christie's desk for consideration.

The Republican governor was criticized by the state troopers' union last year after he missed Cullen's funeral because he was campaigning with Donald Trump in Florida and North Carolina. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno attended the funeral in Christie's place.

The union had been embroiled in several court battles with Christie's administration over the state's pension contributions.

Treatment of transgender students

Another bill sent to Christie last week would guide public schools on treatment of transgender students. The bill specifies that public schools cannot force transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that conflict with their gender identity. It also specifies that school districts should require teachers and administrators to address transgender students by the name and pronoun they prefer.

The bill was approved by the Senate by a 25-10 vote on June 19. The Assembly approved it Thursday by a 59-15 vote with three abstentions, sending it to Christie.

Fire district elections

Legislation to give fire districts the option to move their typically low-turnout elections from February to November also received final approval.

Both legislative chambers voted Thursday to approve the bill, which also eliminates the annual budget vote for districts that move their election date, provided the spending plan also complies with the state's 2-percent tax cap.

The legislation was sponsored by Assemblymen Ron Dancer, R-12th of Plumsted, and Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, and Sen. James Beach, D-6th of Voorhees. It is intended to boost voter participation in the annual fire district elections, which are now held on the third Saturday in February.

If signed by Christie, the legislation would take effect in January 2019.

Library construction bond

Monday's late-night voting session also featured a vote by the Senate to put a $125 million bond referendum on the November election ballot. The borrowing is expected to create a new pool of grant funding that will be made available for "construction, expansion and equipping of New Jersey's public libraries."

The legislation specifies that New Jersey's state librarian would determine more-detailed criteria for the grants. The bill notes that the funding should cover half a project's cost, with the other half coming from the county or municipality that operates the library.

Although the Legislature has approved posting the bond question on the ballot, Christie also must sign-off on asking the voters to approve the borrowing.

Fantasy sports

Christie will also have to decide whether New Jersey should impose regulations and a tax on daily fantasy sports operations.

The proposed bill would impose a quarterly "operations fee" of 10.5 percent of any fantasy sports businesses gross revenues, and require those businesses to obtain a permit to legally operate in New Jersey.

In daily fantasy sports, players create fantasy rosters of athletes from professional sports teams and then compete for money against other players' fantasy rosters. Winners are determined by the statistical performances of the pros on each roster.

The bill would not impact smaller, season-long fantasy sports leagues typically organized among friends, family members and co-workers.

The Senate voted 29-6 on Thursday to approve the legislation and send it to Christie. The Assembly approved the bill in May. The governor has not indicated if he plans to sign the measure.

BILLS THAT WERE TABLED

Out-of-network health care

Legislation to eliminate surprise out-of-network medical bills was originally scheduled to be considered by the Senate, but never got a vote.

At issue are the surprise bills some patients receive if they get care or treatment at a hospital or from a doctor who doesn't participate in their insurer's network and won't accept an insurer's reimbursement as full payment. In some cases, patients will go to an in-network hospital but can still receive a large bill because a specialist, such as a radiologist or anesthesiologist, who assisted in their care was not part of their insurance network.

The issue has been debated in Trenton for the better part of eight years without success. Consumer advocates had hoped to end that streak before the summer. However, the bill ended up getting shelved amid the intense debate over the budget and the Horizon reform.

"With all the last minute shenanigans with the budget and Horizon bill, quite frankly, it took a lot of the air out of the room," said Maura Collinsgru, health care program coordinator for the liberal group New Jersey Citizen Action, adding that the bill might be revisited during the lame duck session.

"The question for us will be do we want to wait for a new governor," she said.

Christie has called for increased transparency about medical expenses and billing by requiring hospitals and doctors to disclose upfront to patients when possible what their insurance covers and how much they will pay for treatment. But he has not specified publicly if he would sign the proposed legislation, which would also create an arbitration process to settle disputes between insurers and health care providers and restrict them from billing patients extra for out-of-network expenses, except under select circumstances.

Pinelands Commission conflicts

Another controversial bill that was tabled sought to clarify when members of the New Jersey Pinelands Commission would be required to recuse themselves from voting or discussing applications or issues. The commission is charged with overseeing development and land use in the million-acres Pinelands.

The legislation specifies that commission members, who are appointed to the panel by either the governor or by the seven counties within the Pinelands, would not have to recuse themselves provided that no direct financial gain or loss "could be reasonably expected" for either themselves, immediate family, or an individual business, profession or occupation connected to the commissioner.

Supporters say the bill is intended to clarify when conflicts exist so that commissioners aren't unnecessarily or improperly excluded.

The bill's sponsors, Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-1st of Dennis, and Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak, D-1st of Middle Township, said the measure is in response to a 2009 State Ethics Commission ruling that instructed Pinelands commissioners to recuse themselves from votes involving Pinelands development credits if they own land in the Pinelands.

The credits are assigned to some landowners in the Pinelands and can be sold to developers seeking to build in higher densities in areas of the Pinelands were such development is permitted.

Opponents of the bill claim it seeks to loosen the ethical standards on the commission that currently prevent them from participating "if there is an appearance" of a possible conflict. Some opponents have also said the bill is meant to protect commissioners accused of having possible conflicts so they can vote on a New Jersey Natural Gas pipeline project through northern Burlington County that is pending before the commission.

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