POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

In Return to Trenton, Christie Expands Drug Treatment to Non-Violent Offenders

By David Cruz
NJ Today

Gov. Chris Christie was back at the State House today after several days of barnstorming for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and amid all the talk that he’ll be the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention. But the governor wanted to get back to Jersey business today, with a bill signing in Trenton.

It was the kind of outside-the-box legislation that Gov. Christie points to when he says he’s not your everyday Republican. Flanked by some prominent Democrats and members of the state’s health and criminal justice communities, the governor signed Senate Bill 881, which prescribes for expanded drug courts and drug treatment for non-violent offenders, as an alternative to incarceration.

“If you talk to a mother or father who has a child with a drug addiction problem, they don’t want to hear about the percentages; they want their child helped,” he said. “If you are a husband or a wife whose spouse has fallen victim to drug abuse, it tears apart your family, and you don’t want to hear about statistics; you want help for that husband or wife.”

The governor had met earlier with clients of the Rescue Mission in Trenton to bring the point home that drug treatment works, recalling his days as a board member of the Daytop Village drug treatment center in the late 1990s.

“I watched miracles happen every day,” he recounted. “People who came in addicted to heroin, addicted to PCP, addicted to cocaine, arrested numerous times, their lives in absolute shambles, and watched those people reclaim their lives.”

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The governor said he was disappointed that the legislature failed to schedule a vote on his bail reform proposal, which he presented at the same time. He called their objections, on constitutional grounds, “silly.”

But Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15) disagreed. “I’m not sure how to answer that,” she said. “I can tell you that I think the governor wants very dangerous people off the streets, like the rest of us do. I think there are ways that you can accomplish that by establishing parameters that make sense.”

As for other Jersey questions the governor’s absence had left unanswered:

— No, he didn’t regret his confrontation with that guy down the shore.
— No, he would not support an expansion of casino gambling.
— No, he wasn’t going to comment on: a) whether he’d blow Mitt Romney out of the water as a keynote speaker or b) who he was going to present as a state Supreme Court nominee.

But, he did say that he thought the State Senate was doing a good thing by holding hearings on the state’s halfway house system.

Sen. [Bob] Gordon has said he’s not on a witch hunt or playing politics,” the governor said. “He says he’s concerned about this issue as am I and that he wants to get to the bottom of some things that are going on, and my understanding is that he’s going to have a number of witnesses today that are going to testify, so that’s great.”

The governor also said he wasn’t ready to make any announcements about other bill signings, like the tenure reform bill, telling us we’d have to wait and see because he wasn’t setting his schedule on what our summer vacation plans might be.