Senate votes on progressive agenda, hopes for more Murphy/Sweeney face time

It was a full docket in both houses Monday. In the upper chamber, over 50 bills were being voted on, among them, bills illustrating the political sea change that comes with a one-party electoral romp. Bills on equal pay, offshore drilling, tuition assistance for DACA recipients, Sikh awareness and appreciation month, and a bill to give police and fire unions control of their pensions, were all up for votes.

“For me personally, pay equity is a big one,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney. “Loretta [Weinberg] has been the prime sponsor, but I’ve been her co-prime sponsor on that and earned sick leave. Those are bills that should have easily gotten done the last eight years, but we couldn’t because we had a different administration. Knowing that these things are going to actually come to fruition are, in my mind, very important. The police and fire pension bill is something I think is the right thing to do, too. There are a lot of bills — they’re all important.”

Noticeably absent from the docket was the package of gun-related bills making their way through the Assembly Monday. Coming just a few days after the student-led marches for gun control, the Assembly seemed to have timed their vote well. Why not the Senate?

“Because we weren’t ready for them,” said Sweeney.

Several of those bills were co-sponsored by Sen. Dick Codey, who seemed not to mind that they were not on the agenda.

“They’ll get done, and they’ll get done very soon,” he said confidently. “I was with 1,000 high school students today. They want action and they want it now. This is a different generation and they want change, especially on safety, in schools and in our world and I’m with them on that.”

The DACA bill makes in-state tuition available for recipients of the Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Co-sponsor Teresa Ruiz said Monday’s vote was payment on a promise.

“These New Jerseyans are our neighbors, our children, our family members,” she said. “They pay taxes. They’re what makes New Jersey strong. They’re what makes New Jersey great, so today marks an episode of fairness that’s been far too long overlooked.”

The Senate moved through the bounty of bills with the precision of a time clock, once they got started. Many insiders say the executive branch should take a lesson on organization, suggesting that may be part of the issue behind some of the friction between Sweeney and the governor.

“Well, you know I have a great, great relationship with the speaker. We talk on a regular basis, and I’ve spoken to the governor a couple of weeks ago. We talk from time to time … We’ll talk more. We’ve just been given the budget, so we’ll be talking more often,” he said. “You can’t do everything through staffs, you know? Sometimes the principals have to be in the room to have conversations, to know how strongly you feel and the positions you take. You know I’m quite concerned about taxes and I’ve said that; I’m not hiding it. Are there some things we can support? Well, we have to have that conversation.”

One Sweeney supporter said, “These votes were easy. The hard part is yet to come.”

Face time is going to be critical, if only to see who blinks first.