Ten Bills that Matter: Assessing Christie’s Latest Signings and Pocket Vetoes

NJ Spotlight | January 20, 2016 | Politics
The governor put his name to some key legislation yesterday, but also let equally important measures languish

The list announced just after noon yesterday contained more than 100 bills, either signed by Gov. Chris Christie on the last possible day of the legislative session or pocket vetoed — allowed to die through inaction.

Just recounting the list would be more than a bit mind numbing, but a number of measures — both those that received the governor’s blessing and those that didn’t — need to be flagged. They range from bills dealing with school recess and special education to ones dealing with property taxes and lead paint. Here’s our list of legislation that needs to be noted, as well as links to our coverage.

No recess for New Jersey school kids

Christie vetoed a bill that would have required 20 minutes of recess for children in New Jersey’s public elementary schools. It wasn’t a big focal point of debate, given all the education issues on the State House docket these days. And there is little solid information about how many schools don’t provide the break in the day. Still, the measure garnered near-unanimous support in the Legislature, and some research indicates that recess is good for young students’ bodies and minds.

A special voice for special education

The governor signed a bill that would create a state ombudsman for special education. The full scope of the office is yet to be determined, but the idea is to provide parents with a point person within the state Department of Education to answer questions and resolve concerns about services for student with disabilities.

County property taxes get some attention . . .

Christie signed three bills yesterday that were proposed by lawmakers last year to help county governments better control rising property taxes. They include a bill extending a 2 percent cap on property-tax levy increases to independent agencies that are funded by county freeholder boards; a bill that says superintendent of elections offices must follow county administrative code for budgeting, accounting, and purchasing; and a bill requiring municipal officials to file tax-abatement agreements with county government finance officers and counsel’s offices.

. . . But county taxes on hotel rooms are a no-go

The state’s chief executive used his line-item veto authority yesterday to kill a piece of legislation that would have allowed county governments to establish a 1 percent tax on hotel rooms within their borders. The revenue that would have been raised was touted as a way to help county freeholder boards address rising property-tax bills.

Beach access gets a boost

Christie added his signature to a bill giving the state Department of Environmental Protection the authority to require access to beach and waterways when issuing coastal-related permits. The bill was passed by the Legislature on the last day of the lame-duck session after a state appeals court ruled DEP lacked the legal authority to do so.

New Jersey’s kids remain at risk for lead poisoning

Among the bills pocket vetoed by the governor was a measure that would have given $10 million to the state Department of Community Affairs to help homeowners and property owners reduce lead-based hazards. Elevated levels of lead have been found in more than 3,000 children in New Jersey. Exposure to lead can cause nerve damage and behavioral problems, as well as other troubles, in children.

Hospitals avoid new local-tax burden

The governor vetoed a bipartisan proposal that would have required nonprofit hospitals to pay new fees to municipal governments to help cover the cost of police, fire, and other local services in exchange for maintaining the property-tax exemption they have long enjoyed. The bill was prompted by a landmark state tax-court ruling in 2014 that successfully challenged the property-tax exemption enjoyed by nonprofit Morristown Medical Center, given that it also operates several for-profit services at the same Morris County site.

State school testing becomes a bit more transparent

State testing was a hot issue all year, whether it was limiting the use of the new tests or eliminating them altogether. Christie played this very carefully, not making too much of the issue in his presidential bid, which downplayed mandated controls on schools. But he did bend and sign a bill that mandates the public disclosure of vendors and other private players in school testing. This came after a testing company was found to be monitoring New Jersey students’ tweets about their tests.