New Jersey

New Jersey Statehouse
Phil Gregory

The New Jersey Assembly could give final legislative approval tomorrow to a measure banning the state's public colleges from paying more than $10,000 to commencement and other speakers.

In recent years reality TV star Snookie, novelist Toni Morrison, and producer Spike Lee were among those paid more than that for speaking at New Jersey colleges.

Assemblyman John DiMaio questions whether that's the best use of college funds.

So far three of the candidates who want to be New Jersey's next Governor have raised enough money to qualify for matching funds.

After gubernatorial candidates meet the threshold of raising and spending $430,000 to qualify for the state program, they can get two dollars in public matching funds for every private dollar they raise.

There's a $4 million limit on public funds for a primary election campaign and a $9.3 million cap for the general election.

Jeff Brindle is executive director of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Nonprofit group leaders attend event where Governor Christie announces the grant program.
Phil Gregory

The state of New Jersey is making a million dollars in grants available for non-profit and religious institutions in nine counties to improve their security.

Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Mercer, Salem, and Warren counties have not been eligible for federal grants to enhance security.

Governor Christie says recent threats at Jewish Community Centers around the state show the need to protect every area vulnerable to possible attacks.

Governor's office entrance
Phil Gregory

Former Saturday Night Live comedian Joe Piscopo says he won’t be a Republican candidate, but he could run as an independent in New Jersey's race for Governor.

Political analysts aren't giving him much chance to win.

Fairleigh Dickinson political science professor Peter Woolley says it's nearly impossible for independent candidates to do well in New Jersey elections because they don't have the party organization or money to attract support.

Mike Egenton and Sara Bluhm oppose the legislation.
Phil Gregory

New Jersey lawmakers are trying again to get the state back into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Governor Christie pulled the state out of the program in 2011, saying it was an ineffective way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. He vetoed previous bills to force the state to resume participation.

Sara Bluhm with the New Jersey Business and Industry Association told lawmakers the state doesn't need to get back in.

Senator Dick Codey uses a smart thermostat to control the temperature in his home.
Phil Gregory

New Jersey lawmakers are considering several bills to encourage homeowners to use smart thermostats that allow homeowners to adjust heating and cooling through an app on their phones.

One of the measures urges the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to set a goal of equipping half a million homes with smart thermostats by the year 2023.

Kenneth Esser with Public Service Electric and Gas says those devices could help customers save money.

“We’re estimating it will provide about a 13 percent energy savings on heating bills and 16 percent on cooling bills.”

Assemblyman Rob Karabinchak
Phil Gregory

Convicted criminals can't serve on New Jersey school boards. Now lawmakers want to prevent them from getting on the ballot in the first place.

Assemblyman Jay Webber says his bill would require school board candidates to certify when they file their nominating petitions that they have no criminal record that would make them ineligible to hold the office.

Assemblyman Gary Schaer
Phil Gregory

New Jersey's Assembly has approved a measure to add another exclusion to the state law that puts a 2 percent cap on local property tax increases.

The law already allows towns to exceed the cap to raise revenue for pensions, health care, debt, and emergencies.

Assemblyman Gary Schaer says the measure he sponsored would include an exemption for the matching funds towns must provide to get state and federal grants.

Assembly Budget Committee holds first of several hearings on the proposed budget.
Phil Gregory

New Jersey lawmakers are holding hearings on Governor Christie's proposed budget.

Assembly Budget Committee chairman Gary Schaer  believes lawmakers will tweak Christie's $3.5 billion spending plan.

"Our involvement is critical in terms of honing the budget. Some funds could be found here to cut. Some funds could be found here to expand."

Declan O'Scanlon is the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee. He says even if good ideas come up at the hearings, they'll be hard to fund because of the state's pension and health benefit obligations.

Senator Gerald Cardinale
Phil Gregory

Donating blood or organs could get you a tax break in New Jersey.

Senator Gerald Cardinale is sponsoring legislation that would allow New Jersey taxpayers who donate blood at least four times a year to get a $100 state income tax credit.

“We need people to give blood. We should encourage it. People can give blood several times a year if they’re healthy. So, we thought good idea. Let’s create an incentive for people to do that.”

New Jersey could become the first state to offer a tax incentive to organ donors.

Senator Ron Rice
Phil Gregory

New Jersey has an old law banning students from bringing pagers to school without written permission from the school board.

Lawmakers are moving to repeal it.

Senator Ron Rice was the sponsor of the 1989 law that he says has outlived its usefulness.

“We were at a time when you didn’t have cellphones and all the text messages and things like that. So, the pager was really used by drug dealers to take advantage of kids to be their street runners and their salespeople, and they were disturbing the schools.”

Senator Ron Rice
Phil Gregory

Every student in every class should have a textbook, according to legislation approved by the New Jersey Senate.

Senator Ron Rice is the primary sponsor of the measure.  He says students shouldn't have to share a textbook.

"You need those books to do homework. You need the books to get the home support for education. In urban communities, particularly where you have the majority of minorities and immigrant population, there's no reinforcement of what takes place in the learning process in school in many cases."

food in trash can
United States Department of Agriculture

A package of bills advanced by a New Jersey Senate committee aims to reduce food waste and help ease hunger.

The legislation calls for an income tax break for businesses that give food to charitable organizations and liability protection for schools that donate edible items.

Paul Jensen with the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen says that would help food pantries.

Workers install solar panels at project being constructed at Delaware Valley Regional High School in Frenchtown.
Phil Gregory

Nationwide employment in the solar industry increased 25 percent last year, but solar employment in New Jersey fell 15 percent. There are still plenty of projects underway in the Garden State, but a slowdown may be on the way.

You can see solar panels on many rooftops, utility poles, and in fields in New Jersey.

There are 66,000 solar installations in the state that generate 2 gigawatts of electricity.

And more are being put up.

Senator Jennifer Beck
Phil Gregory

New Jersey’s ‘move over law’ could be expanded to include garbage trucks.

Drivers in New Jersey are already required to reduce speed and change lanes when approaching a police car, ambulance, or tow truck parked along a roadway with its emergency lights flashing.

Legislation sponsored by Senator Jennifer Beck would extend the law’s protections to sanitation vehicles.

‘I think it’s common sense and fairly simple, but has the potential to make a great impact locally for our public workers.’

The Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey opposes the measure.
Phil Gregory

A measure advanced by a New Jersey Senate committee would shift the management of the Police and Firemen's Retirement System from the state to the fund's board of trustees.

Senate President Steve Sweeney is the primary sponsor of the legislation.

"I don't think there's anything more important than what we can do right now but to give the people that are putting their money into the pension fund the ability to basically manage their money

The two unions representing police in that pension system support the measure, but firefighter unions are split.

The Senate Budget Committee voted to advance the legislation.
Phil Gregory

Governor Christie proposed it in his state budget -- and now the Budget Committee in New Jersey's Senate has voted to advance a measure allocating $400 million from the Transportation Trust fund for needed improvements.

Senate President Steve Sweeney says $140 million in gas tax revenues will go to New Jersey Transit for safety and technology upgrades.

"New Jersey Transit is a critical, critical component of our quality of life in this state. Getting dollars to them quickly so they can start maintaining their equipment better is critically important."

Governor Christie delivers keynote speech at Employment Opportunity Summit in Trenton
Phil Gregory

Governor Christie says he wants to work with New Jersey lawmakers to help former offenders erase their criminal records.

Christie says he'd like an expungement measure to be approved by the end of June.

"I am open to doing this and doing it in a right and smart way. Now we have to find the right standard by which to institute expungement."

Senator Sandra Cunningham has a proposal she wants to discuss with the governor.

Assemblyman Ron Dancer
Phil Gregory

New Jersey lawmakers are considering changing a program that gives a property tax break to eligible senior and disabled residents.

Instead of having to wait to get a rebate, the measure advanced by an Assembly committee would provide what's called the senior freeze benefit in the form of a credit applied directly to property tax bills.

Assemblyman Ron Dancer says one of his constituents experienced such hardship, it inspired him to introduce the legislation.

New Jersey Statehouse
Phil Gregory

Governor Christie's decision to change the rules on applying for a handgun carry permit in New Jersey is getting a mixed reaction.

Christie's new regulation allows police officials who approve carry permits to consider evidence of serious threats not directed specifically against an individual.

Scott Bach leads the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, and he says it's a good move.

Baby box advocates testify at Assembly committee hearing.
Phil Gregory

A bill advanced by a New Jersey Assembly committee would require the Department of Children and Families to put easily printable and updated information on its website about the ‘baby box’ program.

After registering online at babyboxuniversity.com, watching a video about safe sleep, and taking a short quiz, expecting and new parents in New Jersey can obtain a free laminated cardboard box with a snug, fitted mattress.

Assemblyman Troy SIngleton
Phil Gregory

A bill advancing through the New Jersey legislature would create a tax-free savings account program to help first time homebuyers accumulate the money for a down payment.

Assemblyman Troy Singleton says the money deposited in those accounts would be excluded from gross income.

“We realize that one of the biggest stumbling blocks for folks trying to get their first home is having the resources necessary to make that first payment. So what we’ve tried to do is mimic the highly successful 529 plans that folks have used for college education.” 

Former smokers say flavored products helped them quit.
Phil Gregory

New Jersey could become the first state to prohibit sales of flavored electronic smoking products.

Assembly Health Committee chairman Herb Conaway is a doctor and he's concerned that flavored products might make smoking more attractive to young people.

"This business of U.S. teens increasing their first use, increasing their experimentation, is what I am trying to deter with this legislation."

Kristy Hartman owns a vape shop in Middlesex. She says most of her customers start vaping to quit smoking and a ban on flavored products could force her to close.

Spring flowers getting an early start because of the warm weather.
Phil Gregory

It didn't seem much like winter in New Jersey last month.

State climatologist Dave Robinson says it was New Jersey's warmest February since record-keeping began in 1895.

"The average temperature In February was only about a degree lower than an average March temperature. So, we had March in February this year."

Robinson says a persistent weather patterns caused the record warmth.

Governor Christie delivers his budget plan to NJ Legislature
Tim Larsen/Governor's Office

In his final budget speech to New Jersey's Legislature Governor Chris Christie offered a $35.5 billion plan that does not include his so-called school fairness formula for spending the same amount on every student.

Christie says the 2008 school funding formula hasn't worked. He's willing to work with lawmakers on a new one, but says he wants it done within a hundred days.

Assembly Financial Institutions Committee votes to advance the measure.
Phil Gregory

New Jersey lawmakers are considering legislation that would require operators of publicly accessible payment and withdrawal machines to inspect them every day to make sure a skimming device hasn’t been installed on them.

Assemblyman Dan Benson is one of the sponsors of the measure. He says consumers might not be able to tell if an ATM had a skimmer that could be used to steal their personal information and empty their bank account.

College officials testify at NJ legislative hearing
Phil Gregory

New Jersey lawmakers are focusing on hunger among college students.

Carey Wilson directs off-campus living at Rutgers University New Brunswick. She says a food pantry opened there in September to support students who don't have enough money for food.

"We have students who are disconnected from families and therefore lacking the support they need when times are tough.  We have returning adult students who are coming back to school after a layoff and have to support their family. We have students who are choosing between paying for textbooks and paying for food."

ancarlo Tello and Daniela Velez testify at Assembly committee hearing
Phil Gregory

New Jersey lawmakers are examining the impact of President Trump's executive orders to toughen enforcement of immigration laws.

23-year-old Glassboro resident Daniela Velez is an unauthorized immigrant. She came to New Jersey with her family from Venezuela 14 years ago.  She told an Assembly committee the President's executive orders have put her life in turmoil.

Pothole filling machine
NJ Department of Transportation

New Jersey's Department of Transportation says filling potholes is a priority for highway maintenance workers.

You don't have to travel far to find one. New Jersey Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Schapior says constant fluctuations above and below the freezing point this winter have caused multitudes of potholes to erupt on New Jersey roadways.

Advocates want Christie to abandon his 'fairness formula'
Phil Gregory

Governor Christie will deliver his final budget address to the New Jersey legislature next week. Education and civil rights advocates hope it won't include his so-called 'fairness formula'.

Betsy Ginsburg with the Garden State Coalition of Schools hopes Christie abandons his proposal to provide the same amount of per pupil funding to all school districts.

"We believe that it is a misconceived band-aid solution for high suburban property taxes that will trigger a fatal educational hemorrhage in the state's poorest districts."

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