Like students cramming for finals, New Jersey lawmakers adopt a frenzied pace toward the end of each two-year session as they make last-ditch attempts at getting bills enacted into laws.
Because the current lame duck session of the Legislature coincides with the seating of a new governor for the first time in eight years, this year’s pre-holiday action is probably the busiest the state has seen in that period. Fifteen legislative seats are turning over due to the election and two-term Gov. Chris Christie has less than a month left in office, so there are many in the State House looking at their last chance to accomplish a goal. And legislative leaders who will be returning have their own agendas they would like to complete during this time.
While the Democrats control both houses and the incoming governor is a Democrat and the current governor is a Republican, that is not hampering some behind-the-scenes vote trading and deal making for lame-duck priorities. The agendas behind these deals are still not fully public, and may not be known even to some members.
For example, some obscure committees and commissions have been speeding authorizations for Christie plans to issue more than $380 million in new state debt — without voter approval — for several new government buildings. These include two in Trenton that dozens of residents and business owners are opposing because they would be located outside the city’s downtown retail corridor, along with new juvenile justice facilities in municipalities that know little about the plans. To ensure endorsement of the construction, at least one lawmaker temporarily replaced another on the State House Commission so he could vote yes and ensure the plan would proceed.
Some other examples of bills moving quickly through committees over the past two weeks include:
Since Democrat Phil Murphy was elected the next governor on November 7, the Legislature has been in session seven days for committees or full voting or both. It has taken action on 890 bills that are still pending in one house or the other or are on the governor’s desk, according to an analysis of the state Office of Legislative Services’ database of legislation. Nearly half of these bills were only introduced once the lame-duck session had begun.
Normally, the governor has 45 days from the time a bill reaches his desk to sign or veto it or it automatically becomes law. This is the timetable for all bills that passed both houses through November 25. But the end of a session is a trickier time, with a compressed timetable necessitated by the impending close of the session. There are different sets of rules, depending on when a bill reaches the governor, specified in the state Constitution that OLS translates into real dates.
Here’s how to keep track of the path of legislation that will reach or already has moved to the governor’s desk during this session:
But Christie has until January 16 to veto or sign bills. Christie can take any action he’d like on bills approved by this time until he walks out the door around noon on January 16.
Any bill that Christie does not sign or expressly veto will not become law, a term called a “pocket veto.”