New Jersey

New Jersey officials say the beaches are in good shape for the start of the summer season and the ocean water quality is excellent. 

But President Trump's proposed budget would eliminate federal funds for the program that tests the water at more than 200 bay and ocean beaches in the state.

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin says the state has all the money it needs to do that testing this year.

President Trump's budget proposal to increase premiums to preserve the federal flood insurance program is meeting with plenty of criticism in New Jersey.

Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty says a sharp increase in flood insurance premiums would be a mistake.

Advocates are praising Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto's plans to improve New Jersey's paid family leave program.

Prieto's bill would increase the maximum family leave from six weeks to 12, raise the current $633 cap on weekly benefits to as much as $932, and expand the family members who qualify for paid leave to include siblings, grandparents, and parents-in-law.

Eric Richard with the New Jersey AFL-CIO says the current paid family leave law does not provide job protection for workers at firms with fewer than 50 employees.

The New Jersey Assembly has passed a bill intended to strengthen protections against employment discrimination.

Assemblywoman Joann Downey says it would prohibit employers from asking job applicants about their employment history.

“There’s only one reason for that and that’s to be able to pay a person less if they can. If a job is worth something, it’s worth something to each and every person who comes in, especially a woman.”

Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt says the measure is another opportunity to take down a barrier toward equal pay.

New Jersey might ban the use of smokeless tobacco on school grounds.

Legislation to prohibit the use of that product in any area of a public school building has been advanced by the Assembly Education Committee.

Frank Belluscio with the New Jersey School Boards Association says the bill is in the interest of students’ health and safety.

“In many cases, young people just might not be aware. They’re not inhaling smoke and they might feel that chewing tobacco is like chewing bubble gum when in fact it does run the risk of both oral and throat cancer.”

Creating a false public alarm in New Jersey could mean decades behind bars if a bill advanced by an Assembly committee becomes law.

Assemblyman Gordon Johnson says his bill is a response to the string of bomb threats aimed at Jewish Community Centers, temples, and schools earlier this year.

'It's something that we as elected officials cannot accept and must do something in response. We can't allow anyone to be targeted because of their faith."

A bill advanced by a New Jersey Assembly committee would allow people convicted of driving with a suspended license to perform community services instead of going to jail.

Current law allows for a jail sentence up to 180 days.

Assembly Judiciary Committee chairman John McKeon says the intention is to make sure the penalty is appropriate.

Three lawmakers have filed a lawsuit to block the Christie administration's renovation of the New Jersey Statehouse.

Republican Senators Kip Bateman and Mike Doherty and Democrat Ray Lesniak claim the administration initiated the project without legislative or voter approval.

Bateman says that's just wrong.

A New Jersey lawmaker says legalizing recreational marijuana use in the state would create thousands of jobs and generate millions of dollars in tax revenue.

Senator Nick Scutari in introducing legislation that would legalize possessing up to an ounce of marijuana for those 21 and older and set strict regulations for production and sales.

He says it would not permit home growing, so regulators could focus on the facilities that would be licensed to produce and sell it.

The New Jersey Senate's Environment Committee will hold a hearing Monday on a plan to phase out the diversion of money intended for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.

The so-called societal benefits charge on electric and natural gas bills is supposed to be used for those programs, but over seven years New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel says about $1.5 billion of that money has funneled into the state budget for other uses.

The Christie administration is providing more details about a plan to turn over New Jersey's lottery to the public employee retirement system.

State Treasurer Ford Scudder says a steady stream of revenue from the lottery would generate about $37 billion in pension funding over the next 30 years and reduce the general fund obligation to the system.

More patients might become eligible for New Jersey's medical marijuana program.

The state Medicinal Marijuana Review panel has voted to recommend that chronic pain related to muscular skeletal disorders, migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety, Tourette's syndrome, and irritable bowel syndrome be added to the qualifying conditions for the program.

Roseanne Scotti, the state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, is thrilled with the decision.

A New Jersey Congresswoman is re-introducing legislation calling for more stringent federal review of proposed pipeline projects.

Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman says the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is rubber stamping pipeline projects with little regard for the public or the environment.

She says her proposed Safer Pipelines Act would assess regional needs for additional pipeline capacity and the environmental impact of proposed projects.

New Jersey's Supreme Court is clarifying some of the ground rules of the state's new bail system that took effect in January.

The state's highest has ruled the defense should have access to documents and reports prosecutors rely on when seeking to hold violent defendants without bail until trial.

Alexander Shalom, the senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey says the decision sends a strong message that detention hearings need to be meaningful, adversarial proceedings.

New Jersey plans something new to prevent delays at Motor Vehicle Commission offices.

The commission's chief administrator Ray Martinez says two mobile agencies will be available by the summer to be sent where needed in the state.

"We can bring those mobile agencies to do actual transactions. In situations where an office is down for some reason we can bring them in to augment processing or senior citizens locations or things like that."

Martinez says wait times have gotten shorter since last summer when computer problems resulted in long lines.

New Jersey lawmakers are considering legislation that would permit anyone 16 and older to buy and possess sparklers.

Eric Turner represents the United States Fireworks Safety Commission. He believes the measure is a safe way for New Jersey residents to have a 4th of July display in their own backyards.

"A sparkler burns about the same temperature as a blue tip kitchen match. If you touch a lit sparkler to your hand, it will burn. But to the best of our knowledge there has never been a death in the United States attributed to these products."

Governor Christie has been insisting that marijuana is a gateway to other drug use. Now, his opposition to legalizing recreational marijuana in New Jersey is focusing on the revenue it might generate.

Speaking at an event in Toms River where he highlighted his efforts to combat opioid addiction, Christie said some are moving at breakneck speed to legalize marijuana in the state because they believe it will bring in about $100 million of tax revenue.

New Jersey's Attorney General says heroin that's mixed with fentanyl is becoming more pervasive in the state.

Attorney General Chris Porrino says fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and he's heard that some drug dealers will lace one bag in a hundred with a lethal dose.

"You might ask yourself, why would a drug dealer intentionally kill one of his or her customers? And the answer is marketing. Because the word on the street then travels that that particular dealer has the most potent heroin out there and that's what's selling."

Parents and officials from some New Jersey school districts that get significantly less state aid than required by the school funding formula packed an Assembly committee hearing.

Assemblyman John Burzichelli questioned Acting Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington about the Christie administration’s budget plan to hold school funding at current levels.

“Is the Department’s position that the status quo and the effect of the status quo is having is acceptable?

Harrington says the state does not have the money to fully fund the formula.

Police say about a dozen people in Newark became ill after ingesting the synthetic marijuana K2.

A state law, enacted four years ago, that bans those products is having some effect.

Bruce Ruck with the New Jersey Poison Education and Information System says since the ban took effect, calls are down to the poison center about the products treated with chemicals designed to mimic the effects of marijuana.

It's not over yet, but the flu season is New jersey is nearing an end.

State epidemiologist Dr. Tina Tan says some people came down with the flu later in the season than usual, but the number of flu-related illnesses is decreasing now.

"'We definitely had more intense activity this year. This is what we expect when we see a predominance of the type AH3 strain. It tends to be a little bit more severe illnesses.'

Tan says low to moderate levels of flu activity are still being reported throughout New Jersey and it’s not too late to get a flu shot.

The Chief Justice of New Jersey's Supreme Court is urging the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to stop arresting immigrants in courthouses.

In a letter to the Homeland Security Secretary, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner is raising concerns about the recent arrests of two unauthorized immigrants who showed up for appearances in state court.

When individuals fear they'll be arrested for a civil immigration violation when they set foot in a courthouse, Rabner says witnesses to violent crimes may stay away and remain silent.

Governor Christie commends Department of Children and Family employees
Phil Gregory

Governor Chris Christie is congratulating state employees for their work to move New Jersey closer to ending federal oversight of its child welfare system.

New Jersey Department of Children and Families Commissioner Allison Blake says the federal monitor finds the state has satisfied performance measures for reducing the caseloads of intake workers and completing case plans when a child enters out-of-home care.

New Jersey has sold the licenses of two public broadcast television stations for $332 million.

A battle is shaping up on what should be done with the proceeds.

Mike Rispoli is the campaign director for the Free Press Action Fund that's urging the money go to rebuild journalism at the local level in New Jersey.

A new trend has many of the campaign ads in the race for Governor of New Jersey going up online instead of airing on traditional media outlets.

Carl Golden was the press secretary for former Governors Tom Kean and Christie Whitman. He says it's cheaper to put campaign ads on social media and the internet, and they can be effective.

A national survey shows New Jersey hospitals have improved their quality of care.

The nonprofit health care watchdog organization Leapfrog Group ranks New Jersey 15th best for protecting patients from harm.

Communications director Erica Mobley says that's up from 22nd a year ago.

"What we've seen overall is an improvement in both the processes and procedures hospitals have in place to prevent errors and in the outcomes. So in things like infection rates, rates of blood clots, rates of air embolism, we've seen improvement across many hospitals."

Governor Christie is not providing details on additional pension changes he'd like to see before leaving office.

Senate Budget Committee chairman Paul Sarlo says lawmakers would like to hear more about the governor's idea of moving the state lottery into the pension system to reduce its unfunded liability.

He says that has to happen before there's any consideration of talking with public employee unions about more pension changes.

A poll conducted for a coalition of child advocates finds that 85 percent of New Jersey residents believe the youth justice system should focus more on prevention and rehabilitation rather than incarceration and punishment.

Mary Coogan with Advocates for Children of New Jersey says young people who commit crimes should be should be held accountable, but believes community-based counseling and treatment are more effective than putting them in prison.  

Ang Santos / WBGO

  

Knights of New Jersey explores four essential parts of the Renaissance Faire.  Honor, Courage, Loyalty, and Turkey Legs.  Lots of Turkey Legs.  It does so through the comedic life of fictional Renaissance Faire performers Sir Robert of Arden Dale and his mostly trusty squire Tom.  Director Michael Hadley says Knights of New Jersey started with a visit to Medieval Times in East Rutherford.

“I thought, what would it be like to have that as your day job?  To actually punch a clock, swing a sword, and that got me thinking about that lifestyle,” said Hadley.

New Jersey Statehouse
Phil Gregory

New Jersey lawmakers tried to get more details about Governor Christie's plan for a $300 million Statehouse renovation, but the state Treasurer didn't offer many specifics.

Senator Jeff Van Drew asked Treasurer Ford Scudder if the legislature will have to approve the renovation project.

"How does this work? Who authorizes this? Is it purely the executive branch that has the ability to do that?

"Senator, we're working with bond counsel through exactly what steps that needs to take and it's not a finalized process at this point in time."

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