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December 8, 2017

It’s a shameful number and a shameful act: New Jersey finished 49th on a list of states ranked according to their elder-abuse protections, according to WalletHub, the personal finances website. Nevada was ranked No. 1. California came in at 51.

To determine the ratings, WalletHub’s analysts sifted through data and scored each state and the District of Columbia according to prevalence, resources, and protection and then determined the final scores using 11 weighted factors.

According to one estimate, more than 5 million instances of elder abuse occur each year, 96 percent of which go unreported.

December 7, 2017

Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, the powerful north Jersey Democrat, paid a $20,446.60 penalty to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission to settle a four-year-old complaint against him for failing to report the details of or improperly spending more than $70,000 in campaign funds on expensive dinners, trips, a gym membership, and other personal purposes.

DiVincenzo and campaign treasurer Jorge Martinez quietly paid ELEC to settle the matter last month while not admitting any wrongdoing, saying the money was spent “with the good faith belief” that state law allowed such expenditures.

The amount paid represents 80 percent of the total $25,558.25 fine levied by ELEC. It was paid November 20, the day before commission members agreed to accept it. As part of the deal between the parties, ELEC declared $2,178.15 of the spending had been permitted by law and DiVincenzo submitted amended campaign financial reports and agreed to reimburse his campaign treasury $2,640.94. ELEC released the details of the settlement on Wednesday.

This ends the case that began in 2013 and had floundered for years because for a long time the commission did not have a full legal complement — it must have two members of each political party — and for a year leading up to last March, there were not even enough commission members to hold a meeting. DiVincenzo has been an ally of Gov. Chris Christie and the governor either offered no nominees or nominees from the wrong political party for years.

DiVincenzo went to court and won a ruling that the case against him should be dismissed because of ELEC’s inaction. An appeals court panel reversed that decision three months ago, allowing the commission to move forward against DiVincenzo. There had been talk of an appeal to the Supreme Court, but instead, the matter is settled.

December 6, 2017

The Department of Environmental Protection has awarded an $18.4 million contract for the replenishment of beaches and dunes on southern Long Beach Island using sand dredged from Little Egg Inlet, a major thoroughfare for boat traffic between southern LBI and Brigantine that has experienced serious shoaling, Commissioner Bob Martin announced yesterday.

The contract — awarded to Oak Brook, Illinois-based Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co. — covers the dredging of 700,000 cubic yards of sand, with an option to dredge an additional 300,000 cubic yards if needed. The DEP is paying for the project using funds from its Shore Protection Program.

The sand will be placed along beaches and on dunes from Ocean Street in Beach Haven and south through Long Beach Township, repairing areas that sustained erosion as the result of storms since the Army Corps completed a $128 million beach and dune construction project that encompassed much of LBI.

December 5, 2017

According to the State Investment Council, the market value of New Jersey’s pension system was $76.34 billion as of October 31. As of the end of October, returns were 4.03 percent since the current fiscal year began on July 1, according to information discussed during last week’s meeting. Calculated from the start of the calendar year on January 1, returns were 12.20 percent. The pension system's assumed rate of return for investments is 7.65 percent.

December 4, 2017

Seventy-five percent of New Jersey residents, regardless of party and age, say they’re not interested in subsidizing profitable nuclear power companies, according to a survey released today by the Rutgers Eagleton Center for Public Polling. Almost as many (72 percent) indicate that they are worried about the cost of their electric bills going up.

The New Jersey state Senate Environment and Energy Committee and Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee are holding a joint session on the nuclear issue today. According to observers, the Legislature is looking to act on the utility issue in the lame-duck session that will end in January.

Some 69 percent of voters agree that an independent and public assessment should be made to determine if it is economically feasible for PSEG to continue operating its nuclear plants without a subsidy before deciding if New Jerseyans should pay more for their electricity.

December 1, 2017

Today is World AIDS Day. As of June 30, 2017, some 37,255 people were living with HIV or AIDs in New Jersey. According to estimates, about one person in nine living with AIDS does not know it. The rate of new HIV cases in the Garden State has declined about 34 percent in a decade, noted acting Health Commissioner Christopher Rinn, who added, “The number of new AIDS diagnoses went from 1,722 in 2006 to 1,137 in 2015.”

Scientists have recently demonstrated that the chances of transmitting HIV are almost nil when people living with HIV are taking their medication as prescribed and have achieved and maintained an undetectable viral load.

In New Jersey:

  • Nearly 80 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS are 40 or older.

  • Women accounted for 33 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS.

  • The number of cases of pediatric AIDS dropped from 12 in 2001 to two in 2015 (83 percent).

  • About 79 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS are black or Hispanic.

A complete list of the locations of the state’s 150 AIDS-testing centers is available online.

November 30, 2017

It may be that New Jerseyans are more comfortable at the mall than camping out; a new survey from startup Hipcamp doesn’t go into that much detail. But it does reveal that only 22 percent of state residents enjoy camping, whether snug in an RV or tent or under the stars. That puts the Garden State in 40th place on the camping countdown.

November 29, 2017

The phrase “aging infrastructure” is tossed around so much these days that it’s hard to know exactly what it means, so here’s a real-world example. The Hudson rail tunnel shared by New Jersey Transit and Amtrak turned 107 this week, as did the Portal Bridge. That means both have been in service since before the Titanic set out on its ill-fated maiden voyage or the first Model T rolled off Henry Ford’s assembly line.

November 28, 2017

New Jersey just isn’t holding its end up, it’s a simple as that. In a list of the 180 most sinful cities in the United States, compiled by personal finances website WalletHub, the Garden State doesn’t make an appearance until position No. 46 — Newark. Jersey City shows up at No. 131, which almost qualifies it as one of the least sinful cities. (It also has fewer tanning salons than any other community on the list.) And that’s it for sin in New Jersey.

WalletHub came up with its rating using seven sinful behaviors: anger and hatred, jealousy, excesses and vices, greed, lust, vanity, and laziness. The 150 largest cities in the United States were assessed for their sin quotient, as well as the two largest cities in each state.

This is embarrassing. If all public-spirited citizens could just sin a little more each day, we could get those numbers up in time for next year’s survey.

November 27, 2017

In support of those in recovery and their families, Gov. Chris Christie will hold his Second Annual Candlelight Vigil in Trenton at 5 p.m. on December 6. Last year’s vigil on the State House steps was successful in bringing together several hundred members of the recovery community and its many supporters.

November 22, 2017

As you gather around the Thanksgiving table with friends and family, give a thought to the cranberry — whether served as sauce, relish, in a mold, or otherwise — and its economic and historic association with the Garden State. According to figures from statista.com, New Jersey harvested 653,000 barrels of cranberries in 2016, the most recent data available. That makes New Jersey the third-largest producer of cranberries in the United States. The 2016 harvest, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture was worth $28 million.

There’s even a legislative angle to the cranberry: AJR-71 was introduced in 2016 to make October Cranberry Harvest Month. The bill died in committee, but it is a gold mine — or should that be a bog full — of fun facts about this Thanksgiving favorite:

  • There are more than 3,600 acres operational cranberry bogs spread throughout the Pinelands.

  • Cranberries have been cultivated in New Jersey for commercial purposes since Benjamin Thomas of Burlington County first attempted to domesticate them in 1835.

  • In the 19th century, Elizabeth Lee, one of the first cranberry growers in southern New Jersey, created and began selling “Bog Sweet Cranberry Sauce.”

  • “Bounce sorters,” the process to identify and separate good cranberries from bad were invented in New Jersey, and is currently used by all cranberry farmers throughout the country.

One more thing: A healthy, happy, and safe Thanksgiving from all of us at NJ Spotlight.

November 21, 2017

Roughly 8,000 fewer New Jersey students were chronically absent between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, according to a new report released yesterday by Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ). The number of K-12 students identified as missing too much school fell from 136,000 to 129,000 children in total, nudging the statewide chronic absenteeism rate from 10.3 percent to 9.7 percent.

November 20, 2017

According to the most recent findings from Public Policy Polling, U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) has an approval rating in his home district of 32 percent, and 47 percent of voters disapprove of the job he is doing. President Donald Trump has an approval rating of 43 percent and a disapproval rating of 55 percent in Lance’s district, while 8 percent of voters say they approve of the job Congress is doing and 85 percent say they disapprove. These percentages, along with a hypothetical matchup between Lance (41 percent) and a “Democratic opponent” (42 percent), indicate Lance is vulnerable in his upcoming bid for reelection. What’s more, a majority (54 percent) of voters indicated they would be less likely to vote for Lance if he voted in favor of the Republican tax plan.

November 17, 2017

The Christie administration announced yesterday it has awarded 10 grants totaling $1.75 million to county correctional facilities to establish or enhance medication-assisted treatment programs to deal with substance-use disorder. The grants are part of a package of initiatives Gov. Chris Christie unveiled in September that commits $200 million to expand the state’s national-model programs and services to continue to effectively address New Jersey’s opioid and substance-use crisis.

“By increasing the availability of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) in our prisons and county correctional facilities, we will be providing more access to treatment and saving more lives,” according to Christie.

These programs have been shown to reduce the chances that former inmates will reoffend and be returned to jail, the state said. The counties receiving grants are Bergen ($170,628), Burlington ($200,000), Camden ($200,000), Hudson ($200,000), Middlesex ($179,789), Passaic ($200,000), Salem/Gloucester ($200,000), Somerset ($75,000), Union ($200,000), and Warren ($84,600).

November 16, 2017

According to a recent analysis by the Rockefeller Institute, the average New Jersey taxpayer would pay $3,522 more if the state and local tax deduction (SALT) were repealed as part of a broader plan to cut corporate taxes and make other tax-policy changes. Currently, the Senate bill repeals SALT, while the House bill repeals SALT for state sales and income taxes while keeping a deduction for local property taxes up to $10,000.

November 15, 2017

With the sign-up period for the Affordable Care Act’s “marketplace” health plans cut in half this year, just four weeks remain to sign up for subsidized insurance policies for 2018.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the federal government drastically cut funding and other supports for marketplace navigators, the nonprofit groups that help individuals find a plan that makes sense and can connect most with tax credits or other help to offset out-of-pocket costs.

To help fill the gap, Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) will host an informal session to help constituents navigate the system; the event is also sponsored by insurance providers AmeriHealth New Jersey and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, along with the New Jersey Association of Health Plans, the state trade group.

“We know how vital health insurance is to working families and this already complicated process has only been made worse by the lack of assistance coming from the federal government,” Singleton said. “We want to make sure that anyone in need of health insurance has all the resources and tools at their disposal to choose a plan that is best for them and their family.”

The enrollment event will take place on Sunday, Nov. 19, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the JFK Center, 429 John F. Kennedy Way, in Willingboro. Those interested in attending should RSVP at 856-234-2790 or www.assemblymansingleton.com/aca.

Singleton is not alone in his efforts. Horizon has been conducting grassroots outreach at malls, restaurants, and other community gathering spots to connect Hispanics and other underserved groups with care. And several nonprofits teamed up to launch CoverNJ, a website designed to help the public with the sign-up process.

November 14, 2017

A woman from northern New Jersey who recently became ill with Brucella RB51, a rare bacterial infection associated with consuming raw — unpasteurized — milk is the second person in the United States to contract the illness this year. The woman has since recovered, according to the state Department of Health, which was notified of her case in late October.

The DOH issued cease-and-desist orders on Friday to Udder Milk, a home delivery company that it said has been illegally selling unpasteurized milk in the state. Dr. Tina Tan, the state epidemiologist, noted that it is illegal to sell or distribute raw milk or milk products, such as yogurt, soft cheese, and ice cream because they may contain dangerous bacteria.

The symptoms of a brucellosis infection can include fever, sweats, weight loss, headache, fatigue, and muscle and joint pain. Severe cases can cause infections in the heart or central nervous system. It is mandatory to report suspected and confirmed cases to the health department. The DOH website has additional information on brucellosis.

November 13, 2017

Gov.-elect Phil Murphy wants New Jersey to once again be a national leader in the technology industry. But it seems the state has a ways to go in that department, at least by some measures, since it ranks 11th in the nation in terms of technology employment, according to Comptia, a leading technology association. The group estimates New Jersey has 214,737 tech-industry jobs. However, it also has 212,500 tech jobs in other sectors of the economy.

While the sheer number of jobs is mediocre nationally, those that work in the industry here are well-paid, averaging $121,000, which is nearly twice the average state wage. New Jersey added nearly 2,000 new jobs last year, and the tech sector accounts for 8 percent of the economy.

In better news, New Jersey ranks fifth by Comptia in innovation, which is based on an analysis of new tech patents, tech startups, and new tech-business establishments on a per capita basis. More information is available at Comptia’s Cyberstates 2017 interactive tool.

November 9, 2017

Gov.-elect Phil Murphy is already breaking the mold. Yesterday, just one day after his victory over Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, Murphy announced he would tap Jose Lozano as executive director of his transition team, making Lozano the first Latino to serve in the powerful role.

Lozano was a rising star at Hackensack Meridian Health, where he worked since 2013 as a chief of staff and vice president. Before that, he was deputy chief of staff to then U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson — who led New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection under former Gov. Jon S. Corzine — and he was the youngest person to play that role at the agency, which employs 17,000 staff and has an $8 billion budget.

Before that, Lozano was director of strategic and external affairs at the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. He also served in Corzine’s front office in a number of capacities — including policy, politics, and operations — and, at age 26, was the youngest director on staff. Lozano got his start in public service in Paterson, working for U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell.

November 8, 2017

Gov. Chris Christie isn’t exactly going out in a blaze of glory: 41 percent of those surveyed by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Public Mind Poll ranked him among the state’s worst governors. Only 4 percent counted him as one of the best.

What’s more, there have been double-digit increases across a variety of policy areas in the number of voters who believe conditions in the state have worsened relative to opinions expressed two years ago.

In 2015, a fifth (22 percent) believed the state’s transportation system had worsened in the Christie years. Today, that number has more than doubled to 46 percent. Similarly, in 2015, 39 percent believed the state’s reputation had diminished since Christie took office; 57 percent said the same today. Ethical behavior is now regarded as worse today by a majority of voters (54 percent), whereas 42 percent said the same in 2015. And taxes and spending — long a source of frustration among New Jersey voters  — are regarded as worse today than they were in 2015 (63 percent versus 52 percent).

November 7, 2017

The New Jersey League of Conservation Voters’ Victory Fund — the state’s only environmental super PAC — and the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters’ PAC contributed a record-breaking $401,000 to the gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Phil Murphy. This is the most money invested in New Jersey elections on behalf of the environment, noted the LCV. (Some of the funds also went to “other environmental champions,” according to the league.)

According to a memo from the league, “electing Murphy would reposition New Jersey as a national environmental leader.”

November 6, 2017

The most recent survey from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind Poll and the New Jersey Farm Bureau found that respondents are not particularly happy about the environment: One-third (32 percent) say it is getting worse. Half (52 percent) believe it is not changing, but only 14 percent say it is getting better.

November 3, 2017

New Jersey legislative candidates and independent committees had spent $42.1 million on this year’s contests for 40 Senate and 80 Assembly slots with 11 days left until the election. That works out to about $350,000 spent per seat, or more than double the total salary allowance for a legislator, $49,000, and staff, $110,000.

A little more than half of that total, or $22.8 million, was spent by candidates themselves, with the rest, $19.3 million, spent by independent committees seeking to elect, or oppose, candidates, according to data from the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. That independent committee said that the spending total is a new record.

Driving the independent spending is the $12.6 million being laid out in Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s home 3rd District in South Jersey, where a committee backed by the state’s largest teachers union and a pro-Sweeney committee have each spent about $4 million. The $12.6 million spent by independent committees in that race represents 65 percent of the total spent by those groups.

Legislative candidates had raised $36.9 million through October 27, the last campaign financial filing deadline before next Tuesday’s election, leaving them with still $14.1 million in the bank.

In addition to the 3rd District, spending already exceeds $4 million in two competitive districts – Atlantic County’s 2nd and the 11th in Monmouth County. Two other districts, the southernmost 1st and central Jersey’s 16th, which includes Princeton, have seen more than $2 million spent.

Democrats have outspent Republicans 3-to-1 and incumbents have spent about twice as much as challengers.

November 2, 2017

With days to go before the gubernatorial election, Democrat Phil Murphy maintains a 14-point lead over Republican Kim Guadagno among likely voters. A Monmouth University poll, released yesterday, showed that the Guadagno campaign’s recent efforts — including going hard after Murphy for being out of step with the state on immigration — have not budged her poll numbers. Murphy held a similar lead at the beginning of October.

“After failing to generate voter attention for her property tax plan, Guadagno changed tactics and tried to paint Murphy as out of step over his sanctuary state comments. It hasn’t worked,” Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, said.

One of the poll’s notable findings was that most voters say they don’t have a clear idea of either candidate’s political views.

Fifty-three percent of likely voters support Murphy, 39 percent support Guadagno, while 2 percent support independent candidates, and 7 percent are undecided. Among registered Democrats, Murphy has an 81 percent to 13 percent advantage. Guadagno has a 70 percent to 18 percent lead among registered Republicans. Murphy holds only a slight lead among unaffiliated voters, 46 percent to 43 percent. But, though unaffiliated voters represent four in 10 of registered voters in New Jersey, they are projected to account for only one-fourth of Tuesday’s electorate because of their tendency to vote at a lower rate in non-presidential elections.

“This election has been the proverbial tree falling in a forest,” Murray said. “As much as Guadagno has tried, the voters just haven’t been listening. She might have been able to make some headway with a more attentive electorate, but that just wasn’t in the cards this year.” He predicted a “record low turnout on Tuesday.”

November 1, 2017

Twice a year, the healthcare watchdog The Leapfrog Group reports letter grades for thousands of hospitals nationwide based on errors, accidents, infections, and other factors.

In New Jersey — which has had robust participation in the nonprofit’s survey — 68 hospitals were graded and 30 were awarded an “A”, the highest ranking available. Nationwide, of the 2,632 hospitals that submitted data, 832 earned the top grade. That places the Garden State at 11th nationwide for the percentage of “A”-rated hospitals in the fall 2017 rankings, up from 15th this spring. Individual hospital scores can be found in the chart.

Click to expand/close

Several New Jersey health systems continued their high performance: Inspira Health Network, Jefferson Health (formerly Kennedy Health System), and Virtua Health System, all of which have maintained “A” grades at each of their hospitals for at least the past three rounds.

In addition, three hospitals (Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, and two RWJBarnabas Health hospitals: Jersey City Medical Center and Saint Barnabas Medical Center) maintained their straight “A” status, maintaining the highest grade since its inception in 2012.

A handful of hospitals have not fared as well. Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center, an embattled facility that is in the process of being sold, slipped from a “C” rating to a “D” in the latest survey, as did Trinitas Regional Medical Center in Elizabeth.

University Hospital, in Newark, has received a “D” rating for the past three seasons and received a “C” during the other surveys, dating back to 2014.

No New Jersey facilities received an F grade.

The Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade is calculated by top patient-safety experts, peer reviewed, fully transparent, and free to the public. It is updated every six months, once in the fall and once in the spring.

October 31, 2017

Now there’s another reason to be sweet on New Jersey; it’s been ranked third on a list of the best states for trick-or-treating, according to Ibotta, a mobile shopping app that tracks market trends. The Garden State’s third-place finish is based on the average amount spent per person on Halloween candy: $24.36. Oregon, which took the top spot, spends an average of $40.29, so New Jersey has to start stocking up on candy corn and other sugar-shock treats if it plans on going for first place. Ibotta indicates that on average Americans spend $16.45 on Halloween treats, adding that Snickers were the most purchased candy in the week before Halloween in New Jersey for the past two years.

And for those trick-or-treaters who will settle for nothing but the best, Zillow — the real estate data provider — has crunched the numbers and determined the best town in every state for trick-or-treaters. For New Jersey, it’s Fair Haven, where 27 percent of the population is 14 and under.

October 30, 2017

Superstorm Sandy blew through New Jersey five years ago, leaving unprecedented destruction in its wake. As recovery efforts got underway, Monmouth University launched a survey of the state’s hardest-hit survivors to determine how satisfied they were with those efforts. A new Monmouth University Poll revisited some of those participants. Here’s what they found:

Some 55 percent remain unhappy with the state (down from 67 percent in 2013). Specifically, 29 percent of hard-hit residents are very dissatisfied and 26 percent are somewhat dissatisfied. Only 9 percent are very satisfied with the recovery effort and another 35 percent are somewhat satisfied. Among those who have been able to move back to their Sandy-damaged properties, 50 percent are satisfied with the state’s efforts. Among those who have permanently relocated or are still waiting to move back, just 29 percent are satisfied with the state.

Just under half of the survey’s participants (44 percent) say the state’s recovery efforts are focused on helping people like them, (up from 24 percent in 2013). But a majority (56 percent) says that people like them have been forgotten in the recovery effort.

October 27, 2017

According to an economic impact study just released by the New York Shipping Association, the port industry of New Jersey and New York accounted for nearly $8.5 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue last year and supported more than 400,000 jobs.

In addition, the port industry was responsible for $25.7 billion in personal income and $64.8 billion in business income, according to the study conducted by the New Jersey Transportation Planning Authority.

The study also reports that the port industry currently employs 229,000 workers and supports another 171,000 indirect jobs. That number is up nearly 20 percent since 2014.

October 26, 2017

A towering lead among women propels Democrat Phil Murphy to a 57 percent to 37 percent lead over Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno among likely voters in the race for New Jersey governor, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday.

Women back the Democrat 65 percent to 29 percent, while men are divided with 49 percent for Murphy and 45 percent for Guadagno.

Murphy leads 92 percent to 4 percent among Democrats and 52 percent to 39 percent among independent voters. Republicans go to Guadagno 89 percent to 8 percent.

With 13 days until the election, 83 percent of likely voters who name a candidate say their mind is made up.

October 25, 2017

Patient-centered practices are steadily growing in American healthcare. Yesterday, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (Horizon BCBSNJ) announced they helped Horizon members avoid more than 2,000 emergency room visits and more than 600 inpatient stays in 2016.

Patient-centered practices actively coordinate the work of specialists and other health professionals and try to focus on wellness and preventive care. The idea is to help patients get and stay healthy and avoid more costly and complicated health conditions.

Horizon says that in 2016, members engaged with a patient-centered practice — compared to those with traditional practices — had a 3 percent lower total cost of care, 3 percent lower rate of emergency-room visits, 3 percent lower rate of hospital inpatient admissions, 3 percent higher rate of breast cancer screenings, and 4 percent improved control of diabetes costs.

Horizon says that 1.5 million members participated in its patient-centered programs in 2016, an increase of 50 percent over the previous year. And the number of primary-care physicians participating in such programs grew by nearly 10 percent.

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