Butterflies, Booze, but not Bacteria — What NJ’s Last-Minute Laws Cover

Carly Sitrin | January 9, 2018 | More Issues
In the final hours of this legislative session, lawmakers aided monarch butterflies as well as early-morning drinkers at the airport, but they couldn’t deliver for an important bacterium

Monarch butterfly
There was a packed list of bills before the Senate and Assembly yesterday, bills that either had to be pushed through or die. They included some that could have a lasting impact on New Jersey. Others — not so much. Here’s a list of some of the quirky laws that were approved in the last hours of this legislative session.

1. NJ’s new monarchy

S-1732/A-2449 establishes an “Adopt a Monarch Butterfly Waystation” program.

Millions of monarch butterflies migrate in the fall from the United States to Mexico, stopping along the way to feed and reproduce in many places across New Jersey. According to some reports, migrating monarch butterflies are in “grave danger,” mostly due to the decline of a plant called milkweed, which monarch butterfly larvae rely on for food. The new law (S-1732) authorizes organizations, businesses, and individuals to “adopt” parts of state-owned lands in order to “develop and maintain monarch butterfly waystations.” This involves planting milkweed and other monarch-friendly plants to feed and sustain the creatures. The law also has a marketing and promotional aspect which calls for developing symbols, slogans, and mascots to help spread awareness for the program.

“The population of monarch butterflies is in decline and in great danger of extinction,” Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-Camden) said in a press release. “Preserving them in New Jersey is a way of contributing to nature and the environment. This law will ensure that New Jersey provides the necessary resources to successive generations of monarch butterflies.” Christie also signed S-1986/A-2448 which establishes the “Milkweed for Monarchs” program to go hand in hand with the waystations.

2. It’s always 5 o’clock in Newark

A-2419 allows bars and restaurants operating within an international airport to sell alcoholic beverages between the hours of 6 a.m. and 3 a.m.

Marketed as an “economic stimulus,” this new law lets stranded travelers at Newark Airport drink their anxieties away until 3 a.m. Currently, the airport is subject to the City of Newark’s laws which only allow alcohol to be served from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. Monday through Wednesday, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, and from noon to 2:00 a.m. on Sundays. The new law extends that time to a full 21 hours of available drinking time every day.

The law’s sponsors said it will create new jobs, generate revenue for the airport, and respect everyone’s drinking schedule.

“For many travelers, time is all relative. Someone’s morning may be someone else’s evening,” Sen. John Burzichelli (D-Cumberland) said in a press release.

3) Thank you for smoking

A-3975/S-3361 permits smoking in certain facilities for medical or health-related scientific research.

It is now legal to smoke indoors in New Jersey, but only for scientific purposes. The new law carves out a pocket in the strict “no smoking” state policy that allows smoking in a well ventilated research facility approved by the state Department of Health for such research. New Jersey’s Smoke Free Air Act, passed in 2006, prohibited smoking in all indoor public areas (except for casinos, cigar bars, and some tobacco businesses) to reduce the effects of secondhand smoke. However, it had one unfortunate side effect: that ban included medical facilities and other labs studying the effects of smoking.

Now, with e-cigarettes and vape pens becoming more common in public areas around the state, labs are looking to compare the results of smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes and their electronic counterparts. This law will allow it.

4. Safe spaces for Internet exchanges

A3783 allows county and municipal police departments to establish designated safe areas for Internet purchase transactions; establishes public awareness campaign.

Online retailers like Craigslist, eBay, and Facebook offers New Jersey residents the opportunity to find rare, used, or inexpensive products right in their own neighborhood with one caveat: the actual exchange of items can sometimes come with personal risk. This new law would make those Internet transactions a lot safer. A3783 would create a designated “safe space” in several police stations around the state where people could exchange goods with their Internet partner — under the eye of a law enforcement agency.

“Individuals have been mugged, robbed or even shot in public places exchanging cash for goods purchased through online marketplaces or classified sites like Craigslist,” Sen. Linda R. Greenstein (D-Mercer) said in a press release. This law intends to reduce that risk.

The law would also allow the county police department to install a video camera capable of recording a clear image of the designated safe area at all times to ensure that the swap goes according to plan. The measure passed both houses and is currently sitting on the governor’s desk.

No joy for the bacterium

S3190, a bill that designates Streptomyces griseus as New Jersey’s state microbe, didn’t make it through the Assembly last night but it deserves special mention. Though an official state microbe may seem like a microscopic concern, this one actually had a major role in making New Jersey the pharmaceutical hotspot it is today.

Found in New Jersey soil, Streptomyces griseus is a bacterium that makes streptomycin, a pioneer antibiotic discovered at Rutgers University by Selman Waksman in 1944. Streptomycin was the first antibiotic to cure tuberculosis and won Waksman the Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1952. The royalties from his discovery led to the creation of the Waksman Institute of Microbiology at Rutgers, a hugely influential microbiology research program focusing on microbial molecular genetics.

Oregon is the only state with an official microbe (Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a yeast used in brewing) although Hawaii and Wisconsin are both considering adopting their own.

Streptomyces griseus won the support of several microbiological groups in the Garden State even though it was not the only microbe in the running: Azotobacter vinelandii (used to study nitrogen fixation) and Acidithiobacillus thiooxidans (a sulfur-eating bacterium found in sewer drains and cave slime) were also strong contenders.

The measure passed the Senate but, unlike the hearty Streptomyces griseus bacterium, it died in the Assembly.