New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took action on scores of bills on Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, including four controversial tax and budget proposals:
- He signed a bill to end the administration’s practice of forcing developmentally disabled New Jersey residents living in out-of-state care facilities to return home against their wishes. For many years, the state Department of Human Services has placed residents with developmental disabilities in out-of-state facilities due to a lack of services within the State of New Jersey. Through an initiative called Return Home New Jersey, the state had been moving people back to New Jersey. The new law will prohibit the state from transferring an individual with a developmental disability who is currently residing in an out-of-state placement to a residential placement in New Jersey if the individual or the guardian of the individual objects to such a transfer in writing.
- Legislation that toughens current laws dealing with the endangering others was signed into law on Monday. The new law was prompted by the case of Parker Drake, a Howell teen with autism who was coaxed into jumping off the Manasquan jetty and into the freezing waters by two men back in February. The men were not charged after police said there were no criminal statutes that applied. Parker’s mother filed a complaint against them for disorderly conduct. Under previous law, reckless endangerment is a crime of the fourth degree and endangering the welfare of an incompetent person is a disorderly person’s offense. The new law makes it a disorderly persons offense to recklessly engage in conduct that creates a substantial risk of bodily injury to another person; a fourth degree crime to knowingly engage in conduct that creates a substantial risk of serious bodily injury to another person; and a third degree crime to knowingly engage in conduct that creates a substantial risk of death to another person. The bill upgrades the offense if the victim has a developmental disability.
- The governor vetoed a bill supporters argued would improve budget-making in New Jersey by bringing more clarity, collaboration and planning to the budgeting process. Supporters said the measures in the bill would bring New Jersey into line with best practices implemented in dozens of other states and greatly improve the Garden State’s dismal ranking – third worst – on budget planning.
- He approved a bill to allow corporations to convert Business Employment Incentive Program tax subsidy payments owed to them from rebates to tax credits – a move critics say shifts the state’s responsibility to the future and hides it from view. From New Jersey Policy Perspective: “This is a band-aid that does not address the underlying problem: A portfolio of economic development tax subsidy programs that is already unaffordable, but is destined to become much worse and soon.”
- He vetoed a bill to revive the state’s dormant film and TV tax subsidy program. The legislation would have given New Jersey the authority to approve up to $420 million in tax breaks through July 2022 by allowing up to $50 million in tax breaks each year to film productions, and up to $10 million in subsidies each year to digital media productions.
- He also vetoed a bill that would have expanded the state’s Economic Opportunity Act tax subsidy program by $165 million. The bill would have modified New Jersey’s economic development programs, making changes to the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit Act and the Grow New Jersey Assistance Act to make tax credit transfer certificates more widely available.
- The governor signed a bill to boost investment opportunities for participating Urban Enterprise Zone businesses. The new law extends the opportunity to benefit from the Downtown Business Improvement Zone Loan Fund Program to municipalities that have Urban Enterprise Zones. Municipalities that are part of the program can apply for zero-interest loans to cover expenses relating to the redevelopment and rehabilitation of property within designated business improvement zones.
General Assembly Passes “Cecil the Lion” Bills
The General Assembly approved numerous bills on Monday, including bills aimed at protecting threatened animals from extinction by banning the transport of game trophies through airports and facilities controlled by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Since the airports and facilities controlled by the Port Authority – Newark Liberty International, J.F.K and LaGuardia – are some of the most heavily traveled routes back to the U.S. from countries in Africa, the sponsors hope the ban will serve as a disincentive for killing endangered animals for sport like Cecil the Lion, the lion that was killed earlier this year.
The bill prohibits the import, export, shipment, receipt, possession, processing, sale, offer for sale or transport of any priority or endangered species, including any part, product, or offspring thereof, or the dead body or parts at airports or port facilities owned or operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Priority species include any “big five African species”; and various species or subspecies of elephant, rhinoceros, tiger, lion, leopard, cheetah, pangolin, and marine turtle. The big five African species are the African elephant, the African leopard, the African lion, the black rhinoceros and white rhinoceros, and the Cape buffalo.
Any person in violation of the bill would be guilty of a fourth degree crime and would be subject to imprisonment for up to 18 months and a fine of up to $100,000. Upon conviction, any property used in connection with the violation would be forfeited and disposed of in a manner consistent with the best interest of the public.
The bill carves out an exemption for biomedical research at a facility licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture pursuant to the federal “Animal Welfare Act” or at a facility conducting biomedical research in compliance with the United States National Institutes of Health’s “Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.”
A second bill would prohibit the possession, transport, import, export, processing, sale or shipment of animal species threatened with extinction. Under the bill, a violator would be guilty of a crime of the third degree, and be subject to a criminal fine of between $5,000 and $50,000, a civil penalty of up to $25,000, and a civil administrative penalty of up to $25,000 per day of violation, as well as other penalties. A person who possesses wildlife in violation of the bill and who fails to obtain a certificate of possession within 180 days after the effective date would be subject only to a civil penalty of up to $25 for each day that person possesses the prohibited wildlife without a certificate.
More Electric Vehicle Recharging Stations
Legislation requiring the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and the South Jersey Transportation Authority to provide electric vehicle recharging stations at certain rest areas along the New Jersey Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway and the Atlantic City Expressway gained approval from the General Assembly on Monday.
The bill requires the authorities to equip service areas along the toll roads with electric vehicle charging stations that would charge plug-in electric motor vehicles. Under the bill, the charging stations are required to be installed in at least five percent of service area parking spaces in service areas with at least 100 public spaces.
There currently are more than 11,000 alternative fueling stations in the United States and only 78 in New Jersey.
Drug Convictions and Welfare
The Assembly approved legislation that would remove the eligibility restrictions for receiving general assistance benefits under the Work First New Jersey program for individuals who have been convicted of an offense involving the use, possession, or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance.
WorkFirst NJ, the state’s welfare reform program, emphasizes work as the first step toward building a new life and a brighter future. Through cash assistance, job training, education, work activities and many other support services, the program aims to help people get off welfare, secure employment and become self-sufficient.
Currently, anyone convicted of offenses involving the use, possession, or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance is ineligible for general assistance benefits, with the exception of some who may be eligible for benefits if they enroll in or complete a licensed residential drug treatment program. For those enrolled in a treatment program, this exception is contingent on continued participation in the program and periodic drug screenings. There is currently no exception to the general assistance eligibility restriction for persons convicted of offenses involving distribution of a controlled dangerous substance.
Under the bill, people convicted of offenses involving controlled dangerous substances would be subject to the same eligibility requirements to receive general assistance benefits as the general population.
Five-Bill Package to Help NJ Counties Includes County Hotel Tax, Extra Court Fees
A five-bill legislative package to facilitate operations at the local government level was approved by the General Assembly on Monday.
A4772 – Permits counties to impose a 1-percent hotel tax in addition to the current state hotel occupancy fee and sales tax and any municipal hotel taxes. The tax proceeds would be used to reduce the county property tax levy.
A4768 – The bill also would require the county board of freeholders to review and approve salaries of the county superintendent of elections’ appointees. Under current law, if a county has an administrative code, its strictures must be adhered to by the county board of taxation, board of elections, clerk, surrogate, jury commissioners and sheriff.
A4769 – Limits county budget authorities, including county tax administrators, superintendents of election, boards of election, registers of deeds and mortgages, clerks, surrogates, prosecutors and sheriffs preparing the portion of a county budget to be raised by property taxes to request a maximum of a 2 percent increase from the previous year’s budget request, or the cost of living adjustment, whichever is less.
A4771 – Under current law, municipalities that enter into financial agreements with urban renewal entities under the “Long Term Tax Exemption Law” are not required to provide a copy of the agreement to the county. Under that law, the county is entitled to receive 5 percent of the annual service charge negotiated between a municipality and an urban renewal entity as a “payment in lieu of property tax.” The bill would require that the county treasurer and county counsel receive a copy of a financial agreement within 10 days of it adoption and require that amounts due to the county be paid on a quarterly basis.
A4845/A4868 – Establishes the “Court Security Enhancement Fund,” financed by increasing court fees, assessments and penalties. Monies are to be used to supplement local government funding to enhance court security. The state treasurer would administer the fund and disburse money to local governments in the form of annual grants for the procurement of security equipment. Under the bill, a $2 court assessment would be added to the amount of each court cost assessed in municipal court for any violation of any statute or ordinance. In addition, a court security fee of $25 would be imposed on any defendant found guilty of contempt in a domestic violence matter. A $25 court security fee would be imposed for each conviction of a crime, disorderly or petty disorderly person offense, or any juvenile adjudicated delinquent for an offense, which if committed by an adult would constitute a crime, disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offense. An additional $25 court security fee assessment would be imposed on any participants in any supervisory treatment program, conditional discharge program or conditional dismissal program. The bill would add a $5 court security fee on any court filing fees in the Supreme Court, Superior Court and the Tax Court for each first paper filed and for each first paper filed by any person other than the plaintiff. A $5 court security fee would be added for each motion filed. It is estimated that the bill will generate approximately $19.2 million in revenue for the fund during its first full year of implementation.