If this year’s lame-duck session seemed even more hectic and hurried than usual, that’s because it was. The clock wasn’t just ticking on the legislative side of the business of running New Jersey, it was counting down Gov. Chris Christie’s last few weeks, days, and now hours as the chief executive of the Garden State. With that in mind, lawmakers unloaded more than 100 bills on the governor’s desk — dealing with everything from pensions and gun control to Superfund sites to circus animals. Here’s a quick roundup of some of the most significant, and whether they were signed or left to languish until the next legislative session.
A bill that was fast-tracked through the legislative process during the recent lame-duck legislative session and signed into law by Christie yesterday will give former Camden Mayor Dana Redd and possibly other elected officials an opportunity to rejoin the state’s troubled public-employee pension system.
The new law makes an exception for Redd and possibly other politicians despite a pension reform passed a decade ago that sought to no longer allow elected officials to enroll in the defined-benefit pension system in favor of offering them the cheaper option of joining a defined-contribution retirement plan. Redd, a former state senator, gave up her enrollment in the pension system when she left the Legislature to become the mayor of Camden. But the new law now gives her and other politicians in similar circumstances an opportunity to get back into the pension system.
Christie, who praised Redd’s cooperation on his administration’s efforts to revitalize Camden during his recent State of the State address, signed the bill just weeks after saying the shape of the pension system was so bad that public employees should accept new benefits cuts.
Analysts from the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services were unable to determine the cost that the state and local governments would have to take on as a result of the legislation before it was approved by both houses of the Legislature and sent to Christie for consideration.
Legislation that would pull the state of New Jersey out of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor was signed into law by Christie.
The new law represents the latest development in a longstanding argument between the International Longshoremen’s Association, the union representing cargo and deep-sea workers on the docks, and the 64-year-old commission. The ILA has argued that the commission has too much control over hiring on the docks, and the new law would nullify the commission’s ability to accept or reject applications from those seeking to become longshoremen.
The new law will also give the New Jersey State Police the responsibility to root out corruption, at least on the New Jersey side.
A bill banning bump stocks and trigger cranks — gun modifications used in the Las Vegas mass shooting to transform regular rifles and semi-automatic guns into assault weapons — was also enacted into law.
Prior to passage, it was illegal for gun owners to possess any components designed to convert a gun into an assault weapon (including bump stocks). The new legislation makes it illegal for anyone to possess the modifications for any reason, regardless of whether or not they own a gun.
Under the new legislation, the penalty for possessing a bump stock or trigger crank is the same as it is for owning an assault weapon or machine gun (both of which are outlawed in New Jersey). People who own or are in possession of a bump stock or trigger crank will have a 90-day grace period to turn them in to police; retailers have 30 days to do the same. After that period, being in possession of one of these gun modification would be a third-degree offense punishable by three to five years in prison.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), made its passage a personal goal before leaving office. Sending the legislation to Christie instead of Murphy was a considerable risk, as Christie has vetoed gun control bills in the past. The governor signed the bill into law on Monday.
By not taking any action, Christie yesterday pocket-vetoed legislation that sought to create a special economic-development zone around Atlantic City International Airport to help boost a still struggling economy in Atlantic County.
Only Atlantic City and four other communities in New Jersey are formally designated by the state as growth zones, a category that provides businesses that choose to locate there the ability to get some of the most lucrative economic-development tax breaks the state can offer. The others are Camden, Trenton, Passaic, and Paterson.
The bill that would have created a new growth zone in the immediate area surrounding the airport, which is located in Egg Harbor Township in a part of Atlantic County where local officials are trying to establish a technology-cluster centered on the aviation industry, was aimed at bolstering efforts to diversify the local economy by emphasizing industries unrelated to casino gambling.
Local officials had testified in Trenton last month that the proposed tax incentives could help lure new support businesses and startups linked to ongoing R&D already underway at a Federal Aviation Administration facility that’s located at the airport.
Christie pocket-vetoed a bipartisan bill that sought to ban the state pension system from investing in companies that avoid paying to remediate polluted sites in New Jersey through legal maneuvers like declaring bankruptcy using a subsidiary.
The legislation was proposed in direct response to recent efforts by a state-owned Argentinian company and its subsidiaries that seem to be directed at keeping the company from having to pay more than $1 billion to clean up the former Diamond Alkali Superfund site in Newark and related pollution along an eight-mile stretch of the Passaic River.
The bill’s sponsors were seeking to apply the same type of economic sanctions that so far have only been used by the state in response to major international events, such as Iran’s push to develop nuclear weapons during the tenure of former-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They were also hoping that the bill’s enactment would prompt other states to enact similar investment bans to discourage companies from shirking their Superfund responsibilities.
Christie pocket vetoed “Nosey’s Law,” legislation that would prohibit the use of elephants and other exotic animals in traveling circus shows or acts in New Jersey. The bill would have made New Jersey the first state in the nation to ban such shows.
The bill, which Christie allowed to die by not signing, is named for a 35-year-old performing elephant that animal rights organizations say has been abused for years. According to veterinarian reports, Nosey continues to be forced to perform despite showing signs of injury, discomfort, and old age. Animal activists say Nosey has been denied veterinary care.
Two of the largest circuses that employ elephants and other wild animals (Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus) closed last year; however, about two dozen other traveling shows in the state still use such animals.
The bill had passed through the Assembly and Senate with little opposition, and animal rights groups thought it had a good chance of passing as Christie’s position on the issue was unknown.