Legislative committees discuss NJSPCA reform, fire safety and more

There was a lot of hallway activity as committees in New Jersey’s lame duck Legislature rushed through a long list of bills. Among them, one that abolishes the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or NJSPCA, much to the delight of many animal rescue groups.

The audience applauded after the Senate Economic Growth Committee unanimously voted to release the bill, which revises enforcement of the state’s animal cruelty laws. The NJSPCA has been under fire since a report by the State Commission of Investigation called the nonprofit a “haven for wannabe cops” that “fails to consistently respond to serious allegations of animal cruelty.” Many local rescue groups say they end up taking calls and complaints.

“These callers come to us out of confusion, and sometimes out of desperation. Animal law enforcement in New Jersey has evolved into an incredibly fragmented labyrinth,” said Jane Guillaume, executive director of People for Animals.

The NJSCPA argued it needs better support from the state.

“We believe that we can still do the job. We believe that any effort to get us closer to the state, closer to the Attorney General’s Office, make uniform the priority and cooperation of county and local governments is an effort that we would support. We just want to be a part of it,” said Tim Martin, a lobbyist for the NJSPCA.

But the bill, which has an Assembly sponsor, dismantles their organization over a 13-month period that shifts law enforcement to county and local levels, under the attorney general’s supervision.

“This is a new day for enforcement of animal cruelty laws in the state of New Jersey to bring it into professional law enforcement, where it should be and where it needs to be,” said state Sen. Ray Lesniak, who serves as the chairman of the Senate Economic Growth Committee.

Other bills moved out of committees included a measure that protects patients with pre-existing health conditions in the event the Affordable Care Act is repealed or altered.

Another bill up for debate was set to ban bump stocks, which convert weapons into automatic firearms, like the one used in the Las Vegas massacre.

Lawmakers also considered a bill that toughens fire safety code standards, in the wake of the devastating fire that destroyed Edgewater’s AvalonBay apartment complex almost three years ago.

“This small fire started in a bathroom, spread rapidly through open, unprotected areas until it reached the open cockloft attic engulfing the entire building,” said Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco.

Tedesco literally put on his fire helmet to support the bill. The bill requires sprinklers in the unoccupied spaces of light wood frame buildings over two stories, and masonry firewalls between attached structures to prevent the fire’s spread.

“This bill is a game changer. This bill will be modeled throughout the country,” said Tedesco.

Bills in committee must pass the Assembly and Senate during the current legislative session because all unfinished business expires when the new legislative session starts Jan. 9.

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